Thursday, January 01, 2009

Marley and Me, The Movie Review

The cinema version of John Grogan's best-selling family memoir Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog, opened on Christmas Day to generally good reviews and great box office. At just over two hours, it's a longish movie which nevertheless seems to race through the years of family life covered in Grogan's book.

Grogan, the "me" in Marley and Me, worked as a reporter drafted into being a temporary columnist, and his weekly ruminations about his Labrador, Marley, the "world's worst dog," made his reputation in the Miami area and eventually
earned him a job at the Philadelphia Inquirer, while his journalist wife Jennifer pitched in as a stay-at-home mom of three children as the family grew up and grew older over the course of Marley's life.

Owen Wilson plays a laid-back but appealing Grogan, shirt perpetually untucked and blond surfer hair uncombed, while Jennifer Anniston plays an appropriately put-upon career woman who finds herself a stay-at-home mom with three babies and a dog that eats the telephone, and the sofa, and parts of the floor. Kathleen Turner takes a cameo turn as the obedience school madam who flunks Marley out at his first lesson, and Alan Arkin turns in an old pro performance as Grogan's dour but wise mentor and editor at the Miami Sun Times. The hunkie Eric Dane plays Grogan's college buddy Sebastian who becomes the globe-trotting, lady-killer journalist Grogan aspires to be before Marley and the wife and kids intervene, and a series of ever-older child actors and twenty-two yellow Labs of assorted ages ("The Marleys") round out the capable cast.

Director Frankel keeps the Marley mayhem just on the tasteful side of slapstick as we watch Marley charge through screen doors and destroy a succession of household goods. Everyone's favorite Marley moment from the book is reprised when Grogan gives the newly pregnant Jen a gold necklace and the romantic moment is cut short as Marley makes off with the necklace trailing from his mouth, only to swallow it whole as John and Jennifer finally collar him. Of course, there is only one thing to do and good hubby John dutifully does it--hosing down Marley's considerable poop at each opportunity until the necklace is, er, recovered.

These Marley moments are worked into and around the ups and down of married life, as in one scene Jennifer, exhausted and jealous of John's daily escape to the world of work, finally orders him to get rid of Marley. While Marley cools his heels at ace reporter Sebastian's bachelor pad, love triumphs over all and Marley returns to stay and teach the kids to love his wacky ways as they grow up.

But big dogs don't live forever, and when Marley's time comes, it is a sad time for the Grogans. In one of the longer episodes in the film, visits to the vet conclude in Marley's death, and the movie ends with John's vigil as he passes and the family's memorial service for the dog who loved them through it all.

Marley and Me is rated PG, and rightly so, not only for the fairly realistic death scenes which may disturb some children, but also for some mild marital nuzzling between the principles and salty language from Dane's devil-may-care character.

All in all, it's a entertaining and decent rendering of the book, funny and touching and familiar to anyone who's ever lived with a dog from puppyhood to old age.

For a summary of Grogan's several adaptations of the Marley story for young readers, see my recent review of A Very Marley Christmas posted here on December 8, 2008.

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