Sara Vilkomerson’s Guide to This Week’s Movies: Bow-Wow, Wow! Jen, Owen and Marley Make Terrific Trio

How come it’s taken Hollywood this long to match up Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston onscreen? Not only is their chemistry nice and totally believable, these guys actually look like they could have been set up through friends, or met at a bar or whatever: His shaggy hair and busted nose compliments her I’ll-always-just-be-the-girl-next-door-no-matter-how-many-times-I-get-naked-in-GQ attitude. It’s great!

They play John and Jenny Grogan, aspiring journalists who move to Florida. They get jobs at competing newspapers (look for Alan Arkin to steal every scene he’s in as John’s editor) and then—in a convoluted bid to stop Jenny’s biological clock (sigh)—John adopts a yellow Labrador puppy. Audiences should probably just give up and give themselves over to this movie at the moment they meet little Marley, originally called “clearance puppy” by the couple, who comes in and quickly takes the title of “World’s Worst Dog.” Marley is destructive to say the least—he chews through walls and answering machines and had has a fondness for mangoes, humping and breaking just about everything in sight. It’s funny, of course—who on earth is immune to the charms of a rambunctious Lab? But that said, we had a few moments where we were wondering just what Cesar Millan would do (there’s a very weird cameo by Kathleen Turner as a dog obedience trainer that was one of the film’s few odd moments).

Of course, this film really isn’t about the dog. It’s about a couple starting a family. The real-life Mr. Grogan had a monster best seller with his memoir Marley & Me, and it’s pretty easy to see why. After all, for those of us who have had pets, it’s easy to understand how life can be defined within a dog’s 13-year-life span. We watch John and Jenny start a family, struggle within their marriage and careers, and watch time tick by measured by the graying muzzle on Marley. The majority of the film takes place in the first six years of Marley’s life, with the Grogans struggling with new houses and getting pregnant and etc. Eric Dane is thrown in there as Mr. Wilson’s best friend who takes a different path of bachelorhood and high journalistic ambition (will Mr. Dane ever be able to play something other than a McSteamy-like lothario?), but the friends lose touch once Mr. Grogan becomes more of a hard-core family man. (We couldn’t figure out if that was sort of strange on the part of the filmmakers or maybe just incredibly true to real life.)

Director David Frankle’s last film was The Devil Wears Prada, and much like that one, Marley & Me is a shiny, well-crafted machine. Considering both Mr. Wilson and Ms. Aniston are constant tabloid fixtures, it’s no small feat that within minutes of this film, all that we know about their personal lives falls away and you believe in this marriage, occasional irrational fights and craziness and all. Of course, then there’s the ending: If you haven’t figured it out by now, try to think about how a movie about the life span of a dog might finish. At our screening , there was an awful lot of sniffling, and yours truly might have even stifled a sob, too.