You’d have to have a heart made of rawhide not to feel a tad gushy while watching Marley & Me, especially if the man-dog relationship reminds you of a puppy love from your past. For me, it was my first pet, a funny-looking mutt I named Cracker (he was the color of a Saltine), whom I loved dearly.
The film may rekindle some lasting memories from your childhood, but the source material, John Grogan’s New York Times bestselling autobiography of the same name, is milked of all its sentimentality, and by the time we get to the film’s most tender moments, they’re unconvincing and obvious.
Directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada), Marley & Me is not so much about a dog as it is a family’s life journey with a dog as a supporting player through their ups and downs. Owen Wilson is John Grogan, a newspaper reporter stuck in a rut writing blotter stories, who surprises his newlywed (Aniston) with a pup (giving her something to nurture is supposed to be a surefire way to slow down her biological clock).
Marley is an adorable but incorrigible yellow Labrador whose alpha-male inclinations make him “the worst dog in the world.” (Basically, he gnaws everything to a stump and humps Kathleen Turner’s fat leg). In addition to Marley’s mischievous ways, the Grogans’ stress level skyrockets when they begin raising a litter of their own.
While the screenwriters would like you to believe the heart of the story centers on the unconditional love of a dog, Marley becomes an afterthought in the script until he turns weathered and gray in the most heartfelt and drawn-out scenes. Toss him a Snausage for not sinking to Beethoven levels, but I’d rather have my puppy-loving tears triggered by Old Yeller, My Dog Skip, or even Turner & Hooch.