I loved John Grogan’s 2005 memoir Marley & Me, which details his adventures with a rambunctious Labrador retriever named Marley. The novel was personal, emotional, and heartwarming, and as soon as I heard that the story was being turned into a movie I knew that I would go see it. The film has been a huge hit, earning well over $100 million in its first two weeks in wide release, and I’m glad I finally got a chance to see it yesterday. While it’s perhaps not as touching as the book, a lot of the enough of the sentiment translates to the screen to make the film a winner.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): For newlyweds John (played by Owen Wilson) and Jennifer Grogan (Jennifer Aniston), life couldn’t be better. They’re in love, they’re starting a new life together in sunny Florida, and they both have good jobs with major newspapers in the area. Nevertheless, Jennifer feels that something is missing from their lives: children. John balks at the idea of having kids this early, so taking the advice of friend Sebastian (Eric Dane), he decides to get Jennifer a dog instead. He surprises her with a yellow Labrador retriever for her birthday, a dog that they name Marley.
It’s clear right from the beginning that Marley is going to pose a few problems for the Grogans. He chews up everything in sight, tears the garage apart at the slightest hint of a thunderstorm, doesn’t obey any commands, and always seems to be moving at 100 mph. Nothing can calm the dog down, not obedience school, where he was unceremoniously kicked out, not neutering, not anything. Luckily, the Grogans are already in love with Marley and are willing to put up with his antics.
The film goes on to chronicle the next decade or so of the Grogans’ lives, including highs such as promotions at work, pregnancies, and babies, and lows such as a miscarriage, the stress of raising a family, and heated arguments between John and Jenny. Through it all, Marley is the one constant in their lives, a bundle of energy that teaches them the true meaning of unconditional love and loyalty.
My Reaction: I knew going into the film that I would like it. As I said above, I was already familiar with the book, so as long as the filmmakers didn’t totally veer from the plot, I was reasonably sure that the movie would be a good one. Fortunately, I was right.
I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive about Owen Wilson playing the part of John Grogan, as I usually do not like Wilson as an actor. But he was less whiny and nasally than usual in this role, making him very tolerable throughout. This was an important point for me, so I’m happy that Wilson’s involvement didn’t ruin the film. Aniston was good in her role as well. Not brilliant, but not bad either. And of course Alan Arkin and Eric Dane were nice additions as characters that did not appear in the book. I felt the casting was good all the way around.
I was surprised that there weren’t as many John and Marley bonding scenes in the film as I thought there would be. Most of the time, we just see John chasing after the dog or reprimanding him, but I could have sworn that in the book they had a lot of quiet times together too. It was nice that they included the scene of Marley comforting Jen after the miscarriage, but I would have liked to see a few similar instances with John.
The ending was a major downer. I was expecting it because of the book, but even so it was hard not to succumb to emotion as John comforted Marley at the vet’s office. What a sad scene, and what a great job by Wilson in that one. I just wonder why the filmmakers didn’t end with something more upbeat, like John’s final column about Marley and all the letters it generated.
Overall, I thought Marley & Me was an enjoyable experience. It’s not compelling cinema, but it does tell a story that most people can identify with in some way. If you’ve never had a dog, then this probably isn’t for you. But if you have had a canine companion before, you’ll find yourself nodding and smiling more often than not. I give this film 4 stars out of 5.