Let’s face it, Hollywood has flogged this horse to death: Cynical person(s) trudges through life, meets dog and things start to look up. This hackneyed premise (see Beethoven, K9, 101 Dalmatians, that Korean dog movie…) is why it was initially difficult to take Marley & Me seriously. Based on the memoir of the same name by John Grogan, this is the story of a husband, a wife and their faithful canine companion.
The movie follows a neat, chronological order starting with the wedding day. The Grogans are a perfectly happy, functional couple, and aspiring reporter John Grogan (Owen Wilson) wants things to remain as they are. In a bid to deter Jenny from making baby plans, John gets her a Labrador to ease her into the difficulties of parenthood.
Enter Marley. Marley is rambunctious, destructive and leaves the house looking post-Katrina. Sounds like fun? Actually, that’s where the problem is with Marley & Me.
To be fair, Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston do share a decent chemistry and are certainly likeable enough. But the script doesn’t flesh out the characters — instead husband and wife are bland and predictable as much as they are pretty. Alan Arkin is a strong supporting actor, playing John’s gruff editor. Eric Dane practically reprises his role from TV series Grey’s Anatomy as John’s skirt-chasing best friend. But even with good actors, this movie limps along like an overweight Labrador and completely fails to capture the charm that made the book a bestseller.
Director David Frankel resisted the temptation to give the story the “Hollywood treatment”. There was a surprising lack of typical Hollywood exaggerations and slapstick comedy. Instead, what you get with Marley & Me is a family-centred drama with little highs or lows and generally two-dimensional portrayals of the characters. There was very little effort to show the relationship between the dog and its owners.
Considering Frankel was behind the 2006 hit The Devil Wears Prada, one might have expected more charisma from his work. Nevertheless, Marley & Me will be best enjoyed if you relate to the woes of juggling career with parenting duties. In that respect, it was a down-to-earth take on the “dog movie” genre that has recently suffered atrocities like Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
And if you are an avid dog-lover, you’re likely to be disappointed at the feeble portrayal of Marley as a bit-part cast member.