It’s a dog movie. If you’ve ever owned a dog—or seen another dog movie, for that matter—there is nothing in Marley & Me that will surprise you. In fact, the comedic scenes (largely contained in the first half of the film) aren’t very funny, because they’re completely predictable: big dogs make messes and destroy things, as we learned from movies like Beethoven.
The owners of said troublemaker are John and Jennifer Grogan (Wilson and Aniston, respectively), neither of whom seems to age a day over the course of the canine’s entire lifespan and the births of their own three children. The middle section of the story focuses on the Grogans’ expanding careers and family, with yellow lab Marley beginning to mellow out. While Aniston plays herself, and Wilson plays it straight for once, Arkin steals the show as the editor of the newspaper John writes for.
The final act swings back around toward the dog, and the many ways he has endeared himself to both family and viewer. In adapting the real John Grogan’s bestseller, Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) shifts tone from broad comedy through sincere relationship drama and eventually to unabashed sentimentality. It may be uneven, but only a Scrooge could dismiss its earnest attempt to celebrate the life of one animal. As a comedy, it falters; as a drama, it gets mawkish; but as a love letter to dogs, it’s worth slobbering over.