Fox // 2008 // 120 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // March 31st, 2009
"A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his." -- John Grogan
Marley & Me is the charming story of a lovable "bad dog" and his witty owners that first appeared as a best-selling book in 2005. It gets big screen treatment by taking a trained golden labrador and two human equivalents of the breed, and letting all three beguile us through the tale of a plucky couple and their misadventures with an unruly pet. The three stars are blonde and extremely "pet"-able, so you can't help but find them cute and cuddly enough to scratch their exposed bellies. Yet this is a family film that plays out a little differently, if only because the source material is smarter than your average Hollywood script. Marley & Me has some dark real life turns that remind me of its spiritual cinematic cousin Old Yeller. This is a good film for dog lovers, and a nice parable to remind us what unconditional love is about.
John (Owen Wilson, You, Me and Dupree) and Jennifer Grogan (Jennifer Aniston, Along Came Polly) start off as a young couple in Florida who both work as newspaper reporters. We get to see them land first jobs, and then purchase a small but cozy home. When it comes to kids, they struggle with the decision and the process. So they do the next best thing, they go out and purchase a puppy. The mistake they make is they pick out the "bargain priced" one in the litter. He gets named Marley after the Reggae legend, and the dog proves to be more than a handful. He eats anything and everything, rarely obeys his owners, freaks out in storms, and generally provides chaos wherever he goes. Marley is part of the family though, and even when the kids arrive he sticks around to shake things up. By the last reel we have traced the life of the Grogans as they move up in the world, and bear witness to the way Marley fits in to each changing stage. It's a love story about a man, a woman, and their dog.
I came in expecting a typical romantic comedy with animal antics, and left with a nicely structured story about life framed in the context of a dog's time with his owners. Marley & Me satisfies viewers by giving us exactly what we want, but also unexpectedly offering moving moments truthfully acted out. If you took the Beethoven films and crossbred them with Steel Magnolias you'd get Marley and Me. The whole thing is as precious as you'd expect, but it manages to mine some truth along the way. The film's first half is superior to the last, but that is only because as Marley loses his steam so do we. It does get a bit heavy handed towards the end, but overall the sweet tone and cute dog carry it across the finish line easily.
Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson make for a nice couple, even if their California good looks prevent them from being close to the average American man and wife. Certainly both are hard to swallow as struggling reporters, but they radiate a quirkiness that works for the tone of the story. Wilson has the most to do since he has to narrate everything in the voice of the original author. Aniston provides her usually capable earthy support, and looks good while doing it. The human pair do fine work, although they are easily upstaged by the canine costar in any given scene. The dog is the true star, and the team of animals who bring him to life convince us easily that Marley is both bad and lovable in equal doses. The filmmakers try to tell us it was hard to get the dogs to misbehave, although I would voluntarily offer my bad mannered pooches if they want to see how easy it really is. You're here to see the puppy, and we get plenty of him.
DVD Verdict was sent a "screener" for this review, a sub par copy that may not reflect the quality of the final product. I'm sure the transfer will look fine considering the film is straightforward and sunny without much to muck up for DVD. The surround track delivers the dialogue and music cues very well. Surprisingly a "two disc" edition being released finds the film and all extra features contained on disc one with the second DVD containing only the digital copy. Does that take up that much disc space? Really? You're best off purchasing the single disc version. We do get deleted scenes with optional commentary from the director to explain why they were left on the floor. There are close to half an hour of these cut sequences. Featurettes are all "dog themed" with the first concentrating on how they discovered the right retriever to play the lead character. In truth there were many animals used to create the performance, and we catch a glimpse of the process with "Finding Marley." "Breaking the Golden Rule" gives viewers a chance to hear from Marley's human costars, and then "On Set With Marley" is a groan-worthy "interview" session with one of the dogs playing the character. "Animal Adoption" is the five minute public service announcement which encourages viewers to scour shelters rather than do what the Grogans did and go to a breeder. Also included are clips from an ad campaign where Purina asked people to send in footage of their dogs behaving badly, so "Purina Dog Chow's Video Contest Finalists" and "Purina Dog Chow Hall of Fame" prove to be cute additions. There is a gag reel which mainly just shows us Marley missing his mark, and then "To Pee or Not to Pee" which is just the director talking about a near miss on the set. Missing completely from the extras is any discussion with the book's author who owned the real life Marley. It's curious they would omit such a prominent contributor in this process, and the one man most people would love to see on the disc.
If you have a cynical bone in your body then this may not be the film for you. Even though it contains a couple of dark turns, the main thrust of the story centers around treacly, syrupy, warm fuzzies. The whole thing is designed to play on heartstrings of animal lovers, a mission it exploits to the fullest. It relies on a sense of "cute overload" to hammer home any moment it is trying to sell, and that can get cloying if you're not in the mood. Marley & Me manipulates all too transparently, and will work only on those who are already fans of dogs and sweet stories. If the idea of Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, and a dog going on a life journey makes you a little nauseous then move on.
Marley & Me contains enough sunshine and puppies to melt your heart on a rainy afternoon when you want something light and soft for comfort. There's nothing wrong with a film that delivers exactly what it promises, and even nicer to see this one is willing to show some of the dark side to dogs and marriages along the way to "Ah shucks!" land. This one makes for safe family viewing for anybody looking for an uplifting story about a pet. The film works better on the TV screen, because it's a smaller scale vehicle for Aniston and Wilson who both seem more suited for comfy living rooms rather than large sleek cinemas. The only downside is the DVD has no input from the book's author, and the "tricked out" deluxe collectors edition only includes a digital copy for the extra cash. I would suggest a rental or grabbing the single disc on sale. Considering the only other pet movie in recent memory is the ludicrous Beverly Hills Chihuahua, this one's a nice surprise for being a notch above other dog movies.
Guilty of being what anybody expects, Marley & Me is a solid
family film about man's best friend. Cloying but cute, it's free to go.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Home Video
* Digital Copy