I can't vouch for John Grogan's 2005 best-selling memoir, Marley & Me, in which owning a yellow lab helped the journalist (Owen Wilson) and his wife (Jennifer Aniston) tolerate any number of trials and tribulations that came their way -- many of which could be chalked up to the carnage-prone canine himself. I suspect that, unlike their on-screen counterparts, the Grogans actually showed some indications of aging after thirteen years and three kids. I doubt that John had a perpetual bachelor of a best bud (Eric Dane) who lingered around to both knock and envy his marriage with convenient doses of sarcasm and handsomeness. I question that the couple could own a picturesque Pennsylvania estate on just one reporter's salary. But I'm fairly sure that both the book and the film shared a common goal -- to make its audience sit, stay, laugh, cry, and then get on with their lives -- and at those modest aspirations, the movie version pretty much succeeds.
The above-mentioned trials and tribulations begin when the newlyweds move to Miami. Jennifer (Jennifer) already has a job at the Palm Beach Post, and despite his unkempt appearance and lack of journalism experience, John sweeps the editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Alan Arkin, curmudgeonly as ever) off his feet and right into a job. Okay, neither a trial nor a tribulation, but soon enough, John is advised to curb Jennifer's desire for a child by adopting a young yellow lab that they name after Bob Marley, and he proceeds to chew anything AND everything... and gets kicked out of obedience school... and closes one of few local dog beaches with a single squat.
Similar shenanigans continue with episodic determination, with Marley running rampant until enough time passes for "the world's worst dog" to take a back-seat to career concerns, rough marriage patches, and the occasional move. Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) shoots every antic, mishap and temper tantrum with no great flair, and one suspects that screenwriters Scott Frank and Don Roos have done precious little in adapting Grogan's book rather than adding the requisite gruff boss and suave best friend. The acting is equally serviceable and simplistic: Wilson plays it mellow, Aniston fretful, Dane free-wheeling, and Arkin ornery. (In her one scene as a stern obedience instructor, Kathleen Turner merits only a mixture of pity and concern.)
Of course, we're constantly reminded that Marley's the "world's worst dog" -- in case his home-wrecking antics and perfectly adorable appearance weren't enough to win us over -- and sure enough, what starts out in hour one somewhere near Beethoven ends up in hour two somewhere near My Dog Skip, and while there's not a problem with Frankel, Frank, Roos and the crew bringing the film to its inevitable tear-jerking conclusion, it's a shame that the whole affair is dragged out for as long as it is here.
Anyone, though, who knocks the film sight unseen because it might make them cry is selling it (and maybe even themselves) short. Having lost my own family's oldest dog just a few months back, I can't say that the climax quite got tears out of these eyes, but I appreciate the notion that this dog proved to be endearing enough that I hated to see him go. For any film, no matter how simple, to convincingly replicate thirteen years of loyal companionship within a mere two hours is no small feat, and if you as a viewer can't stand the thought of losing the ones you love, then don't see Marley & Me.
(Or Old Yeller.) (Or Bambi.)
Oh, and try not to have any close family or friends. Because they're all going to go at some point, and the best we can hope is that their company is worth enjoying in the meantime. It's not possible to ask much more of Marley & Me, but in ways both shallow and humble, it does delivers a fair share of ups and downs.