Hell is Marley & Me. Rarely has a holiday confection been as thoroughly rank as David Frankel’s adaptation of John Grogan’s memoir about his life with Marley, a Labrador retriever whom he dubs “the world’s worst dog.” But, you know, not really the worst, because at heart he’s just a naughty little cutie who, despite eating furniture and attacking obedience school trainers and destructively scampering about, gives his owners the pure, unadulterated love only a pooch can afford.
Frankel’s film operates in three modes, all of them eye-gougingly saccharine. First it functions as porn for dog lovers, as vapidly pretty journalists John (Owen Wilson) and Jennifer Grogan (Jennifer Aniston) adopt a puppy to prepare for parenthood, and immediately begin enduring all sorts of wacky canine misbehavior that the smitten filmmakers wring for every last drop of adorability. Suffering through this calculating smushy doting is chore enough, but Marley & Me enters a truly unctuous realm once John and Jennifer have kids, since the difficulty of acclimating to parenthood coincides with the couple’s personal crisis. He wants to be a serious newspaper reporter and not a successful autobiographical columnist, while she decides to be a housewife, developments that mutate the proceedings into a grating sitcom version of Revolutionary Road.
Listening to the comedically neutered Wilson and dramatically incapable Aniston bitch and moan about their chosen circumstances is enough to make one sprint to the exit, but doing so would mean missing what may be the year’s most shameless and appalling sequence, in which—spoilers ahead!—Frankel cuts back and forth between the misty-eyed oldest Grogan son watching home movies of himself with Marley, and John standing at Marley’s doctor’s-office deathbed, the lethal injection IV tubes rammed right up into the frame’s foreground. The indecency doesn’t stop there, however, since Marley & Me then concludes with a front-yard funeral in which the three Grogan kids read letters to their deceased pet and then throw them on his blanket-wrapped, grave-encased corpse, a bit of vomitous melodrama to cap off an exploitative tearjerker that runs 125 minutes but, in Marley years, feels like an agonizing eternity.