2008. Dir: David Frankel. Starring: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Eric Dane, Alan Arkin and Kathleen Turner. ●●○○○
I will admit I had high levels of anticipation for this scruffy dog tale adapted from the scribblings of Journo John Grogan and pieced together by David Frankel. I was looking forward to it because a) I go all gooey when I see Labradors and b) Frankel has coped well with this sort of background before and whilst The Devil Wears Prada is set against the backdrop of high fashion it is still adapted from real experiences.
However I sat there watching the film and thinking “Why have they made this? Who is it for? What is the film trying to say?” I only ask these because it simply does not appear to be about a Labrador.
Instead it’s a life affirming piece about the Grogan (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) family as they learn to appreciate each other, have children and move from Miami to a massive house in Philadelphia. Its main concept seems to be the promotion of the family unit, that the family requires sacrifice and deep understanding of each other, that love is hard work but it’s worth it.
That’s all very noble, and I’ve seen some very good films that focus on that but this isn’t one of them. For instance the screenplay forces in comparisons between Grogan’s life and that of his high school friend Sebastian (Eric Dane) who has greater journalistic ambition, but seems to lose out on family. I say the screenplay forces this is because we are never given the chance to appreciate Sebastian’s life except through the eyes of Grogan, and therefore we don’t know if there is any satisfaction in his alternative lifestyle.
In short the film doesn’t do enough to make us like the human characters; the miscarriage scene is glib, we never get an idea of what Aniston has given up to be a stay at home Mum, or what Wilson leaves behind to focus on being a columnist. In the midst of all this is Marley, who is not so much a catalyst for the changes but a holy fool, pulling over tables in one scene then protectively watching over the family in the next.
The biggest crime of all is that I left the film, with reddened eyes from the last scenes (but no spoilers here), but with no real appreciation of what life is like when you have a dog. I have two beautiful mongrels, but if I did not then this film would not have let me know how loving and generous a dog is, or how much impact they have on your life.
No member of the cast or crew stands out to me as having been bad, although likewise few are good. Alan Arkin makes an impression in the underwritten part of Grogan Miami editor, and Kathleen Turner is virtually unrecognisable as a dog trainer.
In the final analysis I can only advise, ignore this doggie doo, and go take a real puppy for a walk in the park – you’ll learn so much more and have a greater emotional connection.