Page last updated at 08:35 GMT, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Marley is no ordinary dog story

by Genevieve Hassan
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Marley & Me
Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston star in Marley & Me

From its film poster and trailer, you would probably assume that Marley & Me is your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy involving a cute dog.

But for anyone who is familiar with the memoir on which it is based - about the real-life story of journalist John Grogan - you would know it is not just a dog story.

And it is something that both the stars of the film, Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, and film-maker David Frankel are keen to stress.

"You think it's a story about a mischievous dog - and it is - but it's so much more than that," says Aniston.

US success

The film follows the first 15 years of married life for John and Jenny Grogan who decide to get a puppy - Marley - to help prepare themselves for having children. But he turns out to be "the world's worst dog" causing mayhem wherever he goes.

"The story is about the highs and lows of being young and in love and encountering the challenges of marriage," says director David Frankel, who previously directed The Devil Wears Prada.

We had babies, puppies, children, adult dogs, old dogs, wasn't as bad as people think - actually it was quite enjoyable.
Jennifer Aniston

"It also deals with the dreams that get sacrificed for the joys of children and about the challenges of balancing career and family."

The film was a surprise hit in the US when it was released on Christmas Day last year.

It topped the box office for two weeks and has so far grossed more than $141 million (102 million) in the US alone.

"The fact it did as well as it did when there were some really big movies out that this was a sign of what people were really hungry for," Aniston says.

"It's such an accessible story - people were ready to laugh really hard, or cry really hard and feel something."

Heartfelt moments

Despite the old adage of never working with children or animals, the stars worked with both for the film - including 22 dogs that played the part of Marley over his life.

Marley & Me
Twenty-two dogs were used to portray Marley, who ages 13 years in the film

"We had babies, puppies, children, adult dogs, old dogs, kids... it wasn't as bad as people think - actually it was quite enjoyable," says Aniston.

"And because Marley was supposed to be such an out of control dog, he could do no wrong."

Although there are numerous instances where the dog is the star, there are also heartfelt moments between Owen Wilson and Marley.

This more serious, dramatic side of Wilson may be something unfamiliar to those more accustomed to the offbeat comedy roles he is best known for.

Even he admits it he finds it tough to be emotional on screen: "I'm not a trained actor so I was a little nervous," he says.

"But then Copper, the dog who played the old Marley, came on set and it was hard not to get emotional as he was just a really old dog so it wasn't hard."

Dog biscuits

Aniston and Wilson are now hoping to emulate the film's success across Europe and have been promoting the film in various countries.

Was whilst appearing on the live TV show Wetten Dass..? in Germany that pair were made to eat dog biscuits after losing a bet.

Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
The stars were made to eat dog treats on live German TV after losing a bet

Wilson failed to correctly guess that a woman could identify the sound of her Husky drinking soup from a bowl when compared to other dogs.

"I said 'that's a chocolate chip cookie I bet - they're not going to make us eat a real dog biscuit'", explains Aniston.

"But it was a real dog biscuit! It's horrible what we feed animals - and they look forward to that."

Wilson added: "We had to choke it down. I spit mine out - it was really dry. I was chewing for a whole segment and it didn't seem to disintegrate."

Whether you are a dog person or not, if you have ever had a pet you will have an emotional connection to Marley & Me - and may need tissues to mop up the tears.

"Dogs are wonderful because they don't think about the future or the past," says Frankel.

"They know only the joy of living in the present - and humans, sadly, often forget that."

Marley & Me is now on general release.

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