Golden-skinned, golden-haired journalist couple John and Jenny Grogan (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston in a mis-match that somehow works) live a sun-kissed life in Florida.
Worried that the missus will want to advance their partnership to parenthood, John buys a Labrador pup, Marley, in the hope that looking after a furry friend will take her mind off procreation.
Thing is, Marley needs a hell of a lot of looking after as he humps poodles, eats sofas and poos in the sea. Aww, adorable, right? But can the Grogans’ marriage survive the ‘worst dog in the world’?
Based on the 2005 bestselling book by the real-life John Grogan, Marley & Me starts out as a curiously flat pratfall comedy that leaves Owen and Jen to roll their eyes as the canine calamities mount up.
Kathleen Turner (looking like Travolta in Hairspray) cameos as a dog trainer who Marley ‘abuses’; hilarity ensues as the terrible hound takes a restaurant table for a walk.
Enchanting perhaps for dog lovers, but others may struggle to see the charm in a mutt who destroys everything. Thankfully, the bad-pooch
antics slow down in favour of more satisfying family business as the Grogans weather difficult parenting, suburban stultification and career disappointment over 13 years.
All the while Marley (played by 22 different dogs) is a regular fixture. The third act, though, is the real emotional sucker-punch as director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) segues from domestic comedy-drama to full-on heartstring-pulling.
There are no surprises in how this shaggy-dog tale ends, but only the hardest heart will fail to summon a lump in the throat the size of a golf ball, shed a furtive tear and leave the cinema wanting to rub the ears of the first man’s best friend they can find.
Manipulative and sentimental the movie may be, but many viewers will be putty in its paws.