Animal films are critical landmines. Step wrong, opinion-wise, and readers will accuse you of being everything from heartless and insensitive to PETA's public enemy number one. Clearly, Old Yeller and other four-footed tearjerkers have made canines the noblest of our beloved domesticated friends. After topping the bestseller's list with his autobiographical memoir Marley and Me, journalist John Grogan is seeing his tale of the world's worst pooch finally make it to the big screen -- and it's time to get out the tar and feathers. Instead of being uplifting and heartwarming, this excruciating effort is 90 minutes of mediocrity followed by 10 minutes of the most manipulative, mean-spirited pap ever put into a movie made for families.
When they get married, reporters John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and his new bride Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) picture themselves setting the Fourth Estate on fire. Eventually, they end up in South Florida where she handles hot button political and social stories. He, on the other hand, is relegated to writing about building fires and lame local oddities. When his sourpuss editor (Alan Arkin) offers him a column, John is unsure what to do. Taking inspiration from the new dog named Marley he just adopted, our scribe is soon scribbling stories about how this cute-as-a-button Labrador retriever is evil incarnate. Labeled "the world's worst dog," Marley lives up to the title. Even as the Grogans grow older and raise a family, they still don't know what to do with their destructive hound from Hell. Article continues below
Marley and Me is mush. If the orphans in Oliver Twist were served this particular brand of syrupy slop, they'd refuse seconds and secretly discard the portion they already had. This is warm and fuzzy as crass and calculated. Director David Frankel, who did a much better job of bringing Lauren Weisberg's The Devil Wear Prada to the silver screen, bifurcates everything, from the Grogans' newlywed dilemmas (she's successful, he's not) to the overriding troubles with Marley (he's adorable, and then deplorable). Nowhere is there a balance. Nowhere do we feel like the endless angst that John feels over his career will have any bearing on how Marley likes to eat drywall and drink from the commode.
The dog is really nothing more than comic relief here -- and he's a poor laugh-getter at that. After all, is there anything new or novel about a pup that pees on the floor, howls when he's alone, and chases after anything smaller than him? Are we supposed to find the endless arguments between Wilson and the certified entertainment void Aniston interesting or compelling? While set in the '80s and '90s, there is very little to indicate the era we're in, and both actors toss in euphemisms and sayings straight out of a 2008 improv manual. Even the formerly fetching Kathleen Turner is forced to play fat, angry, and monstrous. As a domineering dog trainer, she gets a single shocking scene and then disappears.
But the most appalling part of this film is the ending. Without spoiling too much (readers of the book, and anyone with common sense, already knows what happens), a decision must be made about an aging Marley, and for several intolerable minutes we watch as owner and doctor go about their... "business." It makes the finale of The Mist seem upbeat by comparison. In the grand scheme of mass marketing ideas, who thought watching a favored pet "buy the farm" in exacting, step-by-step detail was a good idea? Brian's Song didn't have this protracted of a sendoff for James Caan. Overlong and overwrought, Marley and Me doesn't do its source material justice. Instead of being heartwarming, it's soul crushing.