For a while there, all of Jennifer Aniston's friends, even her father, were giving her copies of Marley & Me, John Grogan's best-selling love letter to his incorrigible yellow Labrador retriever. But Aniston would look at the cocked mug of the ''world's worst dog'' on the cover and promptly toss the book aside. ''It seemed like if I had a basket of magazines I put by the toilet, this would go in it,'' she says. It was only when she was approached to play the role of Grogan's long-suffering wife that she realized how wrongly she'd dismissed the book. ''I got this script and it was like someone punched their fist through my chest.''
Owen Wilson had never read the book either, but the screenplay—about a 9-to-5 newspaperman adjusting to family life with a wife, kids, a mortgage, and a dear clown of a dog—offered him the chance to finally step away from his amiable boy-man roles. The spring shoot also marked his first acting gig since a scary breakdown in the summer of 2007. ''I think this role came to him at the perfect time. You always have an idea of Owen as very funny and, my God, he is,'' says Aniston. ''But boy, is he poignant and touching and honest.''
Playing the straight man, leaving the physical comedy to a mini-kennel of stunt dogs, came naturally to Wilson. ''I hadn't done a lot of stuff that was very kind of emotional in a movie, where you think, 'Jeez, I wonder if I'll feel it,''' he says. ''In a way, it felt easier because this wasn't a broad comedy.... Here everything felt more like real life.'' And for fans of the popular book, he promises
the film doesn't take too many liberties. ''They didn't make it about a Dalmatian,'' he chuckles.
OUR TWO CENTS It's a welcome relief to see Wilson back at work, but Marley needs to win over those who are allergic to cute animal stories.