Marley & Me

By Tim Grierson

 

From its advertising, “Marley & Me” appears to be just an innocuous cute-dog movie, but surprisingly, it's a thoughtful and poignant relationship film about a married couple’s transition from blissful newlyweds to harried, exhausted parents.


Directed by
David Frankel, who made the smash hit “The Devil Wears Prada,” and featuring strong and sympathetic performances from Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, this family film comes to its tear-jerking ending honestly, crafting a satisfying conclusion to a movie that's at its heart a story about how marriage and family change a couple in many unexpected ways.

 

Opening before the onset of Operation Desert Storm, “Marley & Me” introduces John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and his wife Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) on their wedding day. Moving from snowy Michigan to the paradise of West Palm Beach, Florida, the loving couple pursues journalism careers, while settling into their married life.  However, fearful that Jenny might be thinking about having a baby, John gets them a Labrador puppy named Marley, hoping it will postpone Jenny’s baby-craving.

 

As Marley grows up, it proves to be a disobedient dog that cannot be trained, and with his large size and huge appetite, it soon wreaks havoc on the Grogans’ furniture.  Even so, John and Jenny love the dog and their lives in Florida.

 

Naturally, Things change when Jenny gets pregnant. The addition of a newborn baby starts to put pressure on the couple, causing strain in their marriage. And the addition of two more children in subsequent years, not to mention a promising new job in Philadelphia, only contributes to John and Jenny’s changing relationship.  Tracing the Grogan family over more than 15 years, the movie depicts how John and Jenny’s early puppy-dog love for one another evolves into a deeper bond.

 

Based on real-life journalist John Grogan’s memoir about his family and their dog, “Marley & Me” has many of the earmarks of a broad comedy, but the screenplay, written by Scott Frank and Don Roos (“The Opposite of Sex”), displays sensitive understanding of how married couples juggle the demands of matrimony and their own individual dreams.

 

Director David Frankel’s last film was the fashion-industry comedy “The Devil Wears Prada,” co-starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, but as with that movie, Frankel succeeds in balancing humor and drama efficiently.

 

The early reels rely a little too much on zany antics as Marley morphs into a huge full-grown dog, which destroys everything in his path.  But as the Grogans start having children, “Marley & Me” shifts nicely into a more thoughtful, lighthearted examination of how newlywed bliss can’t last forever.  For longtime couples, the challenge becomes whether they can craft a stronger, more loving union as the years go by, and the film is astute at mapping out those multi-nuanced romantic developments.

 

What’s most impressive about “Marley & Me” is hinted at in the film’s title.  Early on, it’s established that while the whole family adores the dog, John shares a close bond with Marley.  Even when he’s having trouble at home, Marley is always there for him.  But in a subtle way, the film suggests that the dog represents John’s own transition from a carefree life to a more responsible adulthood that will require him to leave behind his youthful demeanor and fully accept his roles as father and working professional.

 

Commercials and trailers for the film paint “Marley & Me” as a goofy dog movie, so it’s a welcome surprise that, while the dog is adorable, the filmmakers have something more substantial on their mind. In reality, “Marley & Me” is John’s belated coming-of-age story.

 

In seriocomic performances, Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston are both very natural and emotive without drifting into overwrought pathos. Crucially, they have an engaging chemistry from the opening scenes, which is necessary since we need to believe in their initial love before life’s obstacles start piling up on them during the movie. As “Marley & Me” moves toward its affecting, inevitable finale, the two actors are the film’s sturdy emotional center, and without overdoing makeup or other effects, they believably age over 15 years during the course of the film.

 

The supporting cast is less impressive, partly because they have much less to do.  As John’s tough-but-lovable newspaper editor, Alan Arkin gives another of his dependable father-figure performances. Kathleen Turner has a one-scene cameo as a hard-ass dog instructor in one of the film’s weaker comedic moments. And as John’s best friend, a successful investigative journalist and playboy, Eric Dane doesn’t overdo his character’s fabulous life, instead coming across as a regular person whose drive and refusal to be tied down by romantic commitments have made him the polar opposite of John’s family man.

 

 

Cast


Owen Wilson (John Grogan)

Jennifer Aniston (Jenny Grogan)

Eric Dane (Sebastian Tunney)

Alan Arkin (Arnie Klein)

Kathleen Turner (Ms. Kornblut)

 

 

Credits

 

Fox 2000 Pictures and Regency Enterprises present a Gil Netter / Sunswept Entertainment production.

Producers: Karen Rosenfelt, Gil Netter

Executive Producers: Arnon Milchan, Joe Caracciolo, Jr.

Director: David Frankel

Screenplay: Scott Frank, Don Roos (based upon the book by John Grogan)

Cinematography: Florian Ballhaus

Editor: Mark Livolsi

Music: Theodore Shapiro

Production design: Stuart Wurtzel

 

Running time: 119 minutes

           

 

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