December 25, 2008

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Marley & Me (PG)
“Awwww, doggie” is the gist of the movie Marley & Me, an adaptation of the wildly popular book about a reporter, his family and their boisterous dog Marley.

John (Owen Wilson) gets a puppy for his wife Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) in hopes to slow her biological clock. Marley, the blond Labrador they adopt, puts the a-dog-is-easier-than-a-kid theory to the test. He is rambunctious and hungry — eating part of the garage wall (after first tearing apart the garage’s contents) when he is left alone during a thunderstorm. When it’s time for a walk, Jenny and John find themselves dragged behind the energetic and ever-growing Marley. The movie follows them as they go from being a couple of newlyweds to being the parents of three children and as John goes from reporter covering spot news stories to columnist whose stories about his dog make him a must-read at his south Florida paper.

Marley & Me is, in the most rough-outline kind of way, a story about one couple’s marriage with moments of puppy or dog cuteness thrown in. It is also an unrepentant tear-jerker — daring you not to cry at scenes throughout the movie all leading up to its box-of-Kleenex ending. It’s a movie that will probably get 90 percent of its audience sniffling, but it doesn’t entirely earn it. There’s a lot of story to race through, and the movie lays the sappiness on thick to build up the emotion even as you’re speeding through fistfuls of years. Aniston and Wilson turn in serviceable performances but the story and the dialogue don’t give them the opportunity to really do anything special with their roles of Modern Choose-Your-Choice Woman and Restless Suburban Dad.

Having said that, this is basically a story about relatively average people who are married, make certain career compromises and try to stick it out through all the very normal hurdles that come their way. This movie perhaps represents the least introspective, most superficial way to show all of that but it does, commendably, put a bit of that on the screen. I might be the only one, but I found myself wanting more of that internal-nature-of-everyday-life stuff and less of the cute dog.

But the cute dog is probably why most people are going to see this movie — the cute dog and the PG rating (though I question the ability of most kids under 10 to sit through scenes of middle-aged ennui without squirming). If the words “cute dog” are enough to pique your interest, this movie will probably keep you adequately entertained. C

Rated PG for thematic material, some suggestive content and language. Directed by David Frankel and written by Scott Frank and Don Roos (from the book by John Grogan), Marley & Me is two hours and three minutes long and will open in wide release on Thursday, Dec. 25. It is distributed by 20th Century Fox.