Marley & Me (PG) ***

 

It's a wonderful (dog's) life.

Marley and me
John (Owen Wilson, left) and Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) spend quality time with Marley in 20th Century Fox's "Marley & Me." Photo:20th Century Fox/MCT. 
 

By Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald

The moments that best define Marley & Me, David Frankel's adaptation of John Grogan's memoir, arrive fairly early in the film. Grogan, played by an unusually laid-back and appealing Owen Wilson, narrates a swift and funny montage that features a quick succession of everyday events: Grogan discovers his first gray hair. He writes stories for the newspaper where he works. His wife (Jennifer Aniston) gushes over meeting Gloria Estefan (and finds her own gray hair). The Grogans go out to dinner, argue with his parents over the check. And their poorly behaved yellow Lab named Marley gets into a variety of riotous mischief.

As montages go, this one is a delight. No pop music, no fashion shows, just Wilson's ironic narration on all the things that make up a life: Work. Play. Fun. Love. Ideas. Waiting out hurricanes (the film is set in South Florida, after all). And dogs.

Whether you have a dog, unruly or otherwise, will impact your reaction to Marley & Me; it's a film guaranteed to appeal to tender-hearted pet lovers. But the movie, which was largely filmed in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, turns out to be less about dogs than it is about one man's trajectory through adulthood. It follows Grogan from his wedding day to choosing a puppy, through big career questions and the monumental decision to have kids. Along the way, Marley wreaks havoc, and everybody grows a little older and wiser.

There's not much plot to drive the film, but Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) frames the central conceit -- that it's the simple things like frolicking on the beach with your best friend that we need to treasure in our short time on Earth -- with common but never banal experiences. The newspaper scenes are somewhat less successful: If you were to believe Marley & Me, you'd think low-level reporters were reluctant to take better-paying columnist jobs, a shaggy dog story if I ever heard one.

Still, Marley & Me gets so many of the details right, particularly in its final act, when it turns into a five-hanky weeper. (The need for tissues cannot be overstated.) One scene involving the elderly Marley and his owner is particularly remarkable for the fact that it's something rarely, if ever, shown in a film, and yet the emotions it evokes are universal. When Grogan tells his pet, ''You're a great dog, Marley,'' we can only nod, lump in our throats, and think: Yes. That's exactly what it feels like to love your dog.

Cast: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Alan Arkin

Director: David Frankel

Screenwriters: Scott Frank, Don Roos. Based on the book by John Grogan.

Producers: Gil Netter, Karen Rosenfelt

A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 115 minutes. Thematic material, some suggestive content, language. Playing at area theaters.

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