Everyone's had it happen to them: the movie you wanted to see was sold out so you settled for whatever else was playing. Sometimes you luck out, like when The Departed's lack of tickets led me to The Prestige. Usually though, it's more like when I saw A Guy Thing instead of Chicago. With those expectations, Marley & Me proved a pleasant surprise.
Based on a bestselling memoir by John Grogan I haven't read, Marley & Me tells about how John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and his new wife Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) adopt an ill-behaved dog named Marley. Marley lets them practice being parents before having their own kids, and gives John plenty to write about in his column.
Basically, the movie is a big chunk of John's life, and it coasts by enjoyably enough. Marley's bad behavior provides plenty of laughs, and the dogs that play him are very cute. Other than getting all their furniture chewed, the Grogans don't face any major problems. Sure, John deals with some career dissatisfaction and Jenny has to deal with post-partum depression, but this isn't Revolutionary Road, it's a family movie. The tone is warm and friendly throughout.
The cast likably fills roles they're familiar with. Wilson plays John as a slightly more mature version of the laid-back man-child he typically plays. Aniston stretches beyond Rachel, but her Jenny never feels like more than a typical wife/mother role. Eric Dane stands out by entertainingly repeating his McSteamy role on Grey's Anatomy. Alan Arkin enjoyably acts as a mentor to John. They're all easy to watch, as you've seen them all do it before.
They are all upstaged by the movie's title canine, whose overexcited energy powers the first half of the movie. The dog provides plenty of laughs, from terrifying a housesitter to jumping out of a moving car. Any pet owner is bound to relate. But the gag of a misbehaved dog can only go so far, and eventually the focus shifts to the kids. Once that happens, there's not much for Marley to do. He breaks something every now and then, but it feels like just for memory's sake. Despite some serious talks with Marley, John's connection to him never feels like it spills over to the family stuff. So the second half of the movie is made of fairly ordinary arguments and life events.
Still, these are minor quibbles that can be easily fixed by cute kids and cuter dogs. And there's plenty of both to be had. The ending left most of my theater crying, but does so without overdoing the sappiness. There's nothing particularly objectionable and nothing you haven't seen before. But it's a perfectly enjoyable two hours at the movies.