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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  • My girls--13 and 11--were devastated by the movie. They were completely blindsided by the 20 minute death scene and abrupt conclusion and cried all the way home. They thought the movie was great until the last 20 minutes, but the end made them wish they had never gone. I was pretty disapointed that what I thought would be fun time for them ended up leaving them depessed and mopey for two days.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:32 AM  

  • The book's only been out for what? Three years?
    Maybe you should read something besides People Magazine.
    Then you wouldn't be responsible for traumatizing your children.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:47 AM  

  • Anonymous @10:32

    I hope you grow up before your girls do. If you don't have pets, you have no concept of that relationship. And if you do have pets, you are not doing your girls a favor by letting them think that pets live forever.

    And either way, you blew it by not using the experience as a teaching moment: The best parts of life are all too fleeting - be happy you had them rather than sad when they are gone.

    By Blogger Jack Okie, at 11:23 AM  

  • Both the film and book have their moments, but in truth it is a story about how liberals raise a dog and the inevitable results.

    They kept the dog in the garage. They did not use a crate, they did not impose discipline, etc, etc, etc. They start to train the dog only after the wife insists they get rid of it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:38 AM  

  • Dear Anonymous 10:32:

    I'm sorry the movie saddened your children so much. They are surely sensitive and blessed with the ability to identify with animals so closely.

    I saw the movie with my daughter and nine-year-old grandson who had lost a dog who had been their pet before the nine-year-old was born, and he was very upset by that death. Interestingly, while my daughter and I did some surreptitious eye-dabbing at the ending of the movie, my grandson took it stoically, just saying that that's what happens if you have animals. I suppose the way my daughter and her husband handled their dog's passing gave him the ability to assimilate the event into his own understanding of life.

    One thing we cannot shield our children from is death. Perhaps this vicarious experience will help your girls with a loss in the future.

    By Blogger GTC, at 12:05 PM  

  • Dear anonymous at 11:38 a.m.,

    "It is a story about how liberals raise a dog"?

    Are you kidding? I wonder about your psychological state if you can make a political rant out of a dog story.

    "Liberals" have well-behaved dogs and "right-wingers" have goofy ones sometimes.

    Politics doesn't have to rule our entire outlook on the world. Give it a rest! Go pat a dog.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:14 PM  

  • Anon 10:32, I sympathize. I will not be seeing this film. I am not over "Old Yeller" yet.

    12:14, go and listen to Montana Slim sing "Old Shep," then come see me. Liberals pay vets to shoot their dogs for them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:56 PM  

  • Anonymous 12:56,
    You sound like that nut that shot up the audience in a children's musical program in a Knoxville church because (he said) "he hated liberals."
    I don't get you. Aside from the fact that Old Shep and Marley were good dogs who died when their time came, what is your point here?
    Why do you make a movie review the opportunity to bash someone's civic views, especially since there's no reason to think they bear any relationship to pet ownership?

    Dogs and cats don't see people that way, and neither should you!
    Get your head on straight! We're all in this together!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:33 PM  

  • Geez, it's a movie about a dog. Unless you are a dolt you have to figure the outcome. Kids being "blindsided" by the ending only speaks to the failure of the adult who took the kids.

    And yes if you read the book you know the author is a liberal. So what? However, it is a good example of the liberal idea of discipline (or lack thereof). It is something I think us liberals fall short on when dealing with pets and certainly children. Dogs require discipline. These owners did not want to give it and dealt with the consequences.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:03 PM  

  • Coincidentally, the book review I had scheduled to go up tomorrow morning deals with a child and the probable death of a much loved dog.

    (BTW, the dog is well-behaved, even though the parents act suspiciously like liberals at times. But Anonymous 11:38 will probably say that only happens in liberal fiction!)

    By Blogger GTC, at 7:46 PM  

  • I could see why parents with small children would go see the movie based on the trailer and the fact that it was relased on Christmas Day. This movie was not just a comedy like the trailer portrays. It was a very serious movie, with adult romance, pet death, and marriage emotional issues. I just saw it yesterday and my wife and I noticed some parents leading some children out of the theater. The movie was not appropriate for some children. However, it was an excellant movie. I enjoyed the performances of Owen and Jennifer.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 8:51 AM  

  • Jen is getting better and better at giving Brad a run for his money...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:26 PM  

  • Dear Jeff,
    When I saw the movie, the theatre was fairly full, with families of preschoolers and lower elementary kids predominating. Obviously, people don't pay a lot of attention to the PG or PG-13 ratings!

    Children vary in their sophistication, depending upon whether they have read widely and perhaps whether they have seen many movies, but I wouldn't take a child below fourth or fifth grade to this one--not because of the dog's death so much, but because of the adult, ah, activity.

    In one scene, e.g., the couple are vacationing in a frigid Irish bed & breakfast and snuggle together "warmly" in a single bed. Back at home, Jen waves a testtube at John with a smile and shouts "Luck of the Irish!" Another full frontal (fully dressed) tussle occurs on the couple's bed as they contemplate starting a family. It was tasteful enough (no exposed body parts)for more mature children and adults, but maybe not for primary graders. What do you all think?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:10 PM  

  • Dear Anonymous 7:03,
    "It is something I think us liberals fall short on when dealing with pets and certainly children. Dogs require discipline. These owners did not want to give it and dealt with the consequences."

    Reading your comment, with which I agree in part, leads to another take on being "liberal," that is, being "free" from the drive for total control of every thing in life. Sure, the greenhorn Grogans should not have gotten a big, energetic breed of dog for a small home and yard, and yes, they should have trained whatever dog they chose better.

    But hey--LOOK WHAT THEY GAINED. Their kids got to grow up with a loving dog they'll never forget; Grogan's columns and books about Marley gave us some good laughs and made him famous; and now we're all talking about the major movie based on that rowdy dog!

    Sometimes it pays just to open up to life's messy events and see what happens!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:39 AM  

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