Since David Frankel’s Marley & Me is a movie made purely for people who like to “ooh” and “ahh” at the mere sight of a puppy, I can’t say that I’m really the film’s target demographic. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against dogs—as long as they’re not jumping on me or I haven’t accidentally stepped in their leavings—but my heart doesn’t exactly melt at the adorableness of canines.
Even if the latter were the case, I doubt I could find much to recommend about Marley & Me. Based on John Grogan’s bestselling memoir of the same name, the movie tells the story of Grogan (Owen Wilson, who looks absolutely nothing like the real-life Grogan), his wife (Jennifer Aniston) and their out-of-control yellow Labrador named Marley. The movie follows Grogan’s beginnings as a Florida journalist to his writing a column consisting mostly of stories about Marley, spanning approximately 15 years (and unchanging haircuts) and attempting to show all the trials, tribulations and life lessons of family, career and growing old.
The downside is that none if it seems to mesh, let alone be very interesting. The inclusion of Marley is fine for dog lovers and those who understand the ups and downs of pet ownership, but what other purpose does he serve? Additionally, the film’s dramatic tension boils down to some suburban ennui, postpartum depression, some sort of vague midlife crisis and other various exciting adventures in the lives of happy, middle-class suburbanites.
All of this is mixed with some broad doggie slapstick—he chews up dry wall, wrecks their house, steals whole turkeys and so on and so forth—and various lowbrow humor, like Marley tackling Kathleen Turner and humping the poor woman (which is still less embarrassing than starring in Baby Geniuses). The movie culminates with a tear-jerking, bittersweet ending that’s some of the most schmaltzy, manipulative filmmaking imaginable, complete with crying tots and the requisite syrupy score. But then again, it probably takes someone with a warmer heart and a stronger fortitude than mine to not be amused by the image of Owen Wilson trying his damnedest to emote over a sick dog.
In the end, it all adds to the disingenuous feeling that Marley & Me creates, since nothing about it quite fits. No one—other than Marley—ages. The closest anyone gets is Owen Wilson parting his hair in the middle. The least they could’ve done is given him a weedy mustache. Even as Marley gets older, it’s obvious it’s not the same dog. And the early ‘90s period of the beginning of the movie never feels right. Everything comes across as phony, lazy filmmaking that trades on the generic cutesiness of its subject as opposed to even a modicum of craftsmanship.
Aside from one scene that oddly mimics a sequence from Roger Avary’s The Rules of Attraction (2002), there’s little of interest in Marley & Me. (And I’m still trying to figure out why one would evoke in a family comedy a movie that revolves around promiscuous sex and rampant recreational drug use.) However, judging by the box-office haul the movie took in over the holiday weekend, this isn’t likely to dissuade many from seeing it. It’s safe and unexciting enough to make a ton of money. Rated PG for thematic material, some suggestive content and language.