When movies are made based on literary material, results can vary. Movies like The Devil Wears Prada, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter [Images] films have all served to enhance the legend of their source material in recent times. Movies based on The Nanny Diaries, Stardust and Eragon on the other hand may have indelibly tarnished the name of the books they were based on.
So it was definitely a good move to hire the director of the successful Prada movie to helm a film about a couple that moved from Michigan to South Florida [Images], bought a dog, started a family and moved to Pennsylvania some years later. Especially because the story of that family was the subject of a book entitled Marley & Me and detailed, among other things, the family's many misadventures because of their willful Labrador -- the Marley from the book's (and movie's) title.
The way the story unfolds, John (Owen Wilson [Images]) and Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston [Images]) Grogan move to South Florida soon after they are married and pursue individual careers as reporters with different newspapers. While Jennifer's career begins to flourish right away, John is always hanging on to the tales of co-worker Sebastian's (Eric Dane from television's Grey's Anatomy) adventures in far off lands while writing little insignificant pieces that no one reads or cares about.
When it appears that Jennifer might be ready to have a baby, John distracts her with a puppy, a sweet-looking furball with an appetite for destruction unrivalled since the heyday of heavy metal rock bands with out-of-control drug habits. Somewhere along his journey suffering the excitable enthusiasms of the new family pet, John is encouraged to begin writing a column for his newspaper by his boss Arnie Klien (Alan Arkin) and that is how the misadventures of Marley and John become the stuff that Southern Floridans read about in their daily papers.
The rest of the movie details the Grogan family's life with their pet, the birth of their three children and the family's move to Pennsylvania when John is offered the opportunity to rejoin the ranks of those who report the news, instead of writing opinionated pieces riddled with anecdotes about family pets.
The majority of this movie is narrated in Owen Wilson's voice and like the actor's lazy nasal drawl, this film has an easygoing pace and sylvan air about it. Things happen, life goes on, and landmark events are punctuated by misadventures involving the family pet who goes from being a cute little bolt of energy to a gigantic canine companion who terrifies dog walkers and babysitters alike while maintaining the fiercest loyalty towards the family that took him in.
The human performances range from decent (Wilson, Arkin) to tolerable (Aniston) to you wouldn't miss 'em (Dane, and the kids). The various dogs that play the character of Marley in this movie, from pup to senior citizen canine, are the ones who rule the day. As a tale about a family and the pet who completes the picture, this movie neither breaks new ground nor goes places other doggie movies haven't gone before. But in the way that the beautiful blonde dog makes even the greatest act of carnage feel like an excuse for every pet-less audience member to lean over to their neighbour and say, 'let's get a dog,' this movie scores more points than any recent canine yarn.
Be warned, those of you that haven't read the book (and even those of you that have), there will be several stifled sniffles echoing through the multiplex before the end credits have rolled. Take a loved one, take the kids, because there are lessons to be learnt about family, compromise, adjustment and love that could apply to us all.