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Marley & Me

Marley & Me

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

ON PAPER, the pairing of Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston in a tale about a naughty dog would appear to be the type of Hollywood vehicle that should have most discerning viewers ready for walkies… in the opposite direction.

But David Frankel’s take on real-life newspaper columnist John Grogan’s best-selling novel is actually a very endearing movie experience that mixes real family drama with comedy and tragedy.

Marley & Me became a surprise box office smash in the US at Christmas but it’s easy to see why audiences warmed to its charms. It’s a people tale, populated by real characters and very real situations.

The marketing may suggest out and out comedy, but there’s plenty of drama, too, and the dog doesn’t always hog the spotlight.

Rather, the film follows newlywed journalists John and Jenny Grogan (Wilson and Aniston) as they move to Miami, plan to have babies and delay the inevitable by taking care of a dog.

The canine in question is a playful puppy named Marley, a golden labrador with behavioural difficulties, who proceeds to make their lives hell.

Marley, though, provides the glue that eventually holds the family together through life’s ups and downs, which include pregnancy traumas, big career decisions and the obligatory mid-life crisis and marriage wobble.

Audiences expecting a Beethoven style dog comedy that mostly appeals to the kids may be surprised to find that Marley & Me is much more adult in nature than its trailers suggest. In fact, kids may be bored by some of the more grown-up stuff.

For at its heart, Grogan’s novel is about life’s journey, from the happy moments to its hard knocks, and it’ll doubtless strike a chord with almost everyone that sees it at some point.

Marley’s antics are funny, and there are plenty of scenes of him causing mayhem, but they’re equally balanced with the emotional stuff as the Grogans attempt to build a lasting life and marriage together.

And it’s during these moments that Wilson, in particular, shines, turning in a performance that’s far more mature and serious than we’ve previously been used to from him.

Some of the early scenes between him and Aniston smack of Hollywood gloss and implausibility, but both stars convince during some of the more gritty stuff, while Wilson also strikes up a winning camaraderie between himself and both his best friend and confidant (played with considerable charm by Eric Dane) and grouchy editor (an excellent Alan Arkin).

There are flaws, of course. The film is probably a little too long, a trip to Ireland is hideously cliched, Dane’s character could do with being less one dimensional and the tone is uneven. The final 20 minutes also feel drawn out and woefully manipulative in the tear-jerking stakes.

But for the most part, Frankel’s film is an absorbing, believable crowd-pleaser that invites and rewards your emotional investment. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and sales of Golden Labrador puppies will undoubtedly triple afterwards. But above all else, you’ll care too.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 116mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: July 6, 2009