Marley & Me (PG)

Aniston and Wilson pair up for a 'man buys dog' story that lacks any bite
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The Independent Culture

The makers of Marley & Me obviously haven't heard the old news editors' maxim that "man bites dog" is a story, but "dog bites man" isn't. Their film is about a journalist, but "man buys dog" is about as far as it goes. Based on John Grogan's best-selling memoir, it stars Owen Wilson as Grogan and Jennifer Aniston as his wife Jenny, newlyweds who are starting work at two Miami newspapers. The film follows their lives for a decade or so, as John becomes a successful columnist, often writing about the couple's pet Labrador, Marley. Considering that he gets his name in the title, it's curious how superfluous Marley is. He's dubbed "the world's worst dog", but he doesn't even bite anyone, and, apart from giving John some column fodder, he doesn't affect the Grogans' well-being or relationship at all.

What tends to happen is that John and Jenny discuss whether to move house or to have a child, and then, in case we've forgotten the eponymous canine, they conclude the scene by looking round to see Marley chewing a cushion. It's what you might call a walkies-on part. Another curious omission from the film is a single quotation from Grogan's columns. His editor tells him that he's a "national treasure, the comic voice of South Florida", but without any Sex and the City-style voice-over, we have to take his word for it.

All the same, Marley & Me is a pleasant, breezy portrait of a happily uneventful marriage. It has one spike of energy when Jenny is ground down by new parenthood, a sequence so well observed and well played by Aniston that it almost merits a film in itself. But the script shies away from anything so discomfiting for most of its lengthy running time. The central dilemma, such as it is, is whether John should keep writing light columns, or whether he should get back to hard news reporting, which is what he always wanted to do. It's a dilemma his editor eases by doubling John's salary on the spot.

Maybe I'm just jealous, but I think Marley & Me is fatally out of step with these credit-crunched times. Much like Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road, John's got a cushy job for life, a ravishing wife, a brood of adoring children and a house the size of Heathrow ... and we're meant to sympathise? Besides, Wilson is the last actor who seems as if he'd prefer to write investigative news stories rather than dog-based humour pieces. Let's face it, he's half-Labrador himself.