Rating: * * *
Verdict: A strange combination of adult drama and family comedy that works surprisingly well as funny, if forgettable, light entertainment.
The first thing to clear up is that despite the cute advertising campaign, Marley and Me is not really a kid's film about an out-of-control labrador. It is, however, a film about family and a great dog, that families could enjoy together.
Based on the best selling memoir of the same name by journalist John Grogan, which in turn was based on a series of newspaper columns, Marley and Me is about the relationship between John (Wilson), our narrator, and his wife Jen (Aniston). It's about the stuff of relationships, and focuses on the challenges of marriage, raising kids, and the quiet, elusive search for happiness. Mixed with a dash of family pet.
Labrador Marley is the first of Jen and John's kids and is followed by three real ones, (the third of which John nicknames "Whoops"). Marley is generally regarded as the "world's worst dog". And he is, but his real role in this film is to provide comedy, wider family appeal, and represent the film's two big themes, unconditional love and loyalty.
Owen Wilson is charming as the laid-back Grogan who constantly surprises himself, and although Jen looks a little too perfect to be real, they have a believable chemistry together. This and the witty one-liners are enough to distract you from the story's lack of substance, and the feeling there are really two films going on; one about Jen and John, and another about the mad antics of a crazy dog.
Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) steals the show as Grogan's gruff editor boss, and keep an eye out for Kathleen Turner (Romancing the Stone) in a cameo role as a dog trainer. The trademark raspy voice is likely to be the only way you'll recognise her.
It may be hard to categorise, part adult drama, part romantic comedy and part family comedy, but Marley and Me is not hard to enjoy. Thanks to good casting choices, it celebrates sentimentality without being too cheesy, and is brazenly proud to be a well-rounded, feel-good and, at times, genuinely funny piece of light entertainment.
Cast: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Alan Arkin
Director: David Frankel
Running Time: 111 mins
Rating: PG (Contains sexual references)
Screening: SkyCity, Berkeley, and Hoyts Cinemas