Movie News & Reviews

'Marley & Me' goes beyond puppy love

If your first reaction to the trailer for "Marley & Me" was a roll of the eyes, that's understandable.

But don't be fooled.

"Marley & Me" is not just a lightweight romantic comedy with wacky canine antics. This adaptation of journalist John Grogan's best-selling book about his family's life with "the world's worst dog" is also a surprisingly heart-tugging film about love and coming to terms with adulthood.

As it begins, "Marley & Me" has all the makings of a generic romance flick. Grogan (Owen Wilson) has just married the girl of his dreams, Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston), and together they move to Florida, where they hope to take big newspaper jobs (she's also a reporter). Marriage and career upgrades fit neatly into Jen's "plan."

That plan also includes children (uh-oh), so it's up to the groom's handsome, charming, womanizing best friend and colleague, Sebastian (Eric Dane of "Grey's Anatomy") to make sure his old buddy maintains some independent man-spirit.

Sebastian's idea? Buy Jen a dog -- that'll put her off children for a while.

That's how little Marley comes into the picture, and oh, what a handful he turns out to be. The Labrador suffers from severe separation anxiety, which causes him to howl pitifully and embark on chew-and-destroy missions, leaving awesome destruction behind.

He runs off at the slightest provocation and ignores commands, a real problem as he gets (much) bigger. And hey, if he likes your looks, he may even show some extra affection toward your leg.

He's simply untrainable. But at least he's comic fodder for John's new column. He also provides good training for humans who'll find their youthful freedoms slipping away more as each of three children is born. That's life.

One good thing about this film is that Marley never does anything you wouldn't expect an untrainable dog to do. He's a big, dumb palooka, not a too-cute Hollywood movie pooch with "human" traits. But as every dog lover knows, even the dumbest dog has an amazing capacity for love and empathy, demonstrated when Marley puts his consoling head on Jen's lap as the film takes one unexpected somber turn.

It's a good turn for the movie, which hits its stride after the first half-hour. This is the first film Wilson worked on after his well-publicized suicide attempt, but you won't detect any recent personal turmoil in his performance. He seems natural and relaxed while conveying John's dry wit and his easygoing but restless nature. He has good screen chemistry with Aniston, who brings the necessary heat to the relationship. And yes, they're both good with dogs, especially Wilson.

Though far from perfect -- it feels too long, for instance -- "Marley & Me" has moments that are sure to touch the heart of anyone who's ever experienced mutual love at first sight with a new puppy, then watched the dog grow old and loyally take a lesser role to the children. If the ending doesn't put a lump in your throat, you must be a cat person or something.

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