Marley & Me Movie Review (3 Stars)

Movie Review by Michael Phillips


Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston in Marley and Me
Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston

There are two kinds of people in this world:

Those who love dogs, and those who have no souls.

"Marley & Me" is tailor-made for the former, who will laugh delightedly for the first hour of this unabashedly earnest, unexpectedly funny movie, and spend the remaining hour weeping openly into whatever absorbent materials they can find in the dark theater.

(Hide your scarves.)

When John Grogan, a newspaper columnist, published his 2005 memoir of life with Marley, a boisterous yellow lab he and his wife, Jenny, dubbed the World's Worst Dog, reaction was divided: Some readers were enchanted by the tales of career and family, while others dismissed Grogan's writing as sentimental pap.

In 2006, I approached the book, by then a national sensation, with some trepidation. (I make every effort to avoid reading two types of books: those I wish I'd written myself and those in which dogs get sick, get old, die or any combination of the three). "Marley & Me," I feared, would fulfill both criteria.

As it happens, I was right. The book, like the movie it inspired, is a sweet, surprisingly moving chronicle of a young couple's struggle to simultaneously build a family, advance their careers and maintain their sanity.

Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) and John (Owen Wilson) Grogan are journalists, a profession that apparently once paid people enough not only to buy a house but also to raise three children and a large, omnivorous dog.

Marley, as you've probably guessed, is not actually the world's worst anything, but his misadventures provide a colorful backdrop and a handy allegorical frame for the Grogans' marriage, the depiction of which wisely includes the resentments bubbling under the surface of many dual-career households, as well as the ineffable joy -- and unspeakable terror and stress -- of parenthood.

"Marley" director David Frankel also helmed "The Devil Wears Prada," one of a very few movies much better than the source material.

While "Marley & Me" doesn't have quite the same bite, it is a similarly glossy, self-assured effort. (That's probably because Frankel brought along several of his "Prada" crewmembers, including cinematographer Florian Ballhaus and composer Theodore Shapiro).

The movie also refuses to take itself too seriously, thanks in part to Frankel but also to its stars.

Aniston handles the transition from newlywed to mother of three with good grace, while Wilson, in his first role since his reported suicide attempt, certainly seems more reflective than in previous films -- which may be attributable less to his personal crises and more to the fact that anyone is going to appear calm next to a manic Labrador retriever.

Aniston and Wilson are also ably assisted by their human co-stars, who include Eric Dane (McSteamy on "Grey's Anatomy," now in serious danger of being perma-cast as the workplace Lothario). As John's globe-trotting, womanizing colleague Sebastian Tunney, he serves as John's constant, bittersweet reminder that with every puppy, every new baby, he's drifting further away from what he thought he wanted.

And then there's Alan Arkin, who, as John's editor, is hilarious and dry -- it's a shame he's not onscreen for every single scene. (They say actors should never appear opposite animals or children. This performance proves definitively that Arkin is every bit as dangerous.)



MPAA rating: PG (for thematic material, some suggestive content and language).

Running time: 2:00.

Starring: Owen Wilson (John Grogan); Jennifer Aniston (Jenny); Eric Dane (Sebastian); Alan Arkin (Arnie Klein).

Directed by David Frankel; screenplay by Scott Frank and David Roos, based on the book by John Grogan; photographed by Florian Ballhaus; edited by Mark Livolsi; music by Theodore Shapiro; production design by Stuart Wurtzel; produced by Karen Rosenfelt and Gil Netter. A Twentieth Century Fox release.


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