Marley & Me

by | Mar 31st, 2009 | 9:00AM | Filed under: DVD Reviews

I didn't think too much about Marley & Me when it was out on the big screen; I missed the press screenings before it opened, didn't take the time to see it in theaters over the holidays, but I kept hearing a background rumble about how surprisingly good it was, even though it looked like a movie about a dog. It's not like I let that make up my mind for me before I saw it — a bad thing for a film critic to do — but it did make me curious: Could a film about a dog — not a killer St. Bernard, not a district attorney who turns into a dog, just a regular dog — actually be good?

But then I watched Marley & Me and noticed the names of the writers who had adapted John Grogan's book: Scott Frank and Don Roos. Frank has written scripts like the smart, tricky Out of Sight and the wild, weird Minority Report; Roos has written caustic, clever indie comedies like Happy Endings and The Opposite of Sex. I rubbed my eyes; it was as if I'd walked into a local hamburger shack and found superstar chef Tom Collichio working the grill, or went to the mini-golf place out by the highway and found Tiger Woods handing me my short putter and score card. So while Marley & Me is just the story of a family and their dog — and no dog owner will accept there's any such thing at 'just' a story of a family and their dog — it's surprisingly well-written, funny and smart and tough and moving and sincere and clever. Sure, it's about a dog. But Marley & Me is also about the things life gives us, and the things life takes away, and how one can help with the other.

John Grogan (Owen Wilson) is a newlywed would-be journalist following his wife Jen (Jennifer Aniston) to her new job in Miami. He gets a job at a rival paper, they get a house, and she starts muttering about kids; as a pure maneuver of deflection, he gets a dog. "Girls are $300, boys $275," the owner of the puppy place says. "That one's $200." And, demonstrating how there are some things you shouldn't cut corners on, they take home the "clearance puppy," who is soon re-named Marley and recognized as "the worst dog in the world." The unspoken joke, though, is that Marley — cute and unreliable, energetic and untrainable — is a little more like John than anyone would like to admit.

And that's it, really: John and Jen have triumphs and tragedies; they have kids who grow up; they change jobs; they move; they fight and make-up; they worry about money and how Marley eats everything. But there's something about Marley & Me that can't just be written off to the charm of Grogan's story or the charisma Aniston and Wilson bring to their parts or how clumsily, earnestly cute the many dogs playing Marley are; in many ways, Marley & Me is a movie about trying to get by in the world without going crazy, and how caring for someone, or some thing, outside of you can make you a person who's more worthy of others' care. And when John's boss Arnie (Alan Arkin, great as he always is) says to John "Sometimes life has a better idea," it evokes John Lennon's saying how "Life is what happens while you're making other plans," and we nod, and we smile, because it's true.

And, it should be pointed out, Marley & Me is amazingly well-made, from the smart script to David Frankel's light, deft direction, from Wilson and Aniston's sincere, invested performances (neither John nor Jen is perfect, and Wilson and Aniston dig deeper than you might think to portray that) to the great supporting cast including Alan Arkin as John's boss, Kathleen Turner as an exasperated obedience trainer and Eric Dane as the friend who gets the life John maybe thinks he wanted. The DVD is loaded with extras — deleted scenes, a gag reel, information on the various dogs the film used — but it also, quite unexpectedly, includes a featurette on how adopting a dog instead of buying from a breeder can save their life and change yours, a great message in an unexpected place. I wouldn't call Marley & Me "great," but it is good – and more importantly, "good" in a couple important senses of the word, kind and forgiving and generous and real and sincere. I didn't just feel lucky to finally have seen Marley & Me; after Marley & Me, I felt lucky to be alive, with all of the sweet and sad and hard and happy things that entails. Not bad for a movie about a dog; not bad for a movie, period.

You can read Locke's theatrical review of Marley & Me here.

69 Responses to “Marley & Me

  1. Carolynne
    Posted on April 8, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    I read the book but haven’t seen the movie due to the sadness at the end. I heard it was very poignent. However, I AM going to see the movie soon. As to those that have lost a pet, which as an old lady I have lost several, just remember that you gave the pet a quality of life it would not have had but not for you. The puppy was already born when you got it and had a destiny to die, but with you, the life time was better not worse. Dogs accept their fate. My losses still bring me to tears when I think of each one, but I have more memories of the joy and havoc each animal enriched my life with. Your job – enrich your animal’s life while they are here. Marley was blessed with owners that stuck by him in spite of all the chaos and trouble he brought.

  2. Dyan
    Posted on April 8, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I disagree with some reviews of Marley & Me not being for anyone who has loved and lost a dog. I have 2 best friends in this life: my dog, Hurricane, and my cat, Leonardo. Hurc has arthritis and is overweight with hypothyroidism. I love this dog more than I can express, but he is 9 years old, and I can only pray he lives to be 13. But, when it is his time, I will hopefully be able to grieve his death and know that I will keep him in my heart…always.

  3. Jim
    Posted on April 8, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    First 90 minutes very enjoyable…funny and well-done. Last portion would seem to be VERY tough on anyone who has had to put a family pet done. It was NOT a good experience for me, and the dog we put down died in 1984! Parents might have so me consoling to do with their kids…..and with each other.

  4. Laurin Murden
    Posted on April 8, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    I protested when my husband and I saw the sign at the animal clinic advertising a puppy, free to a good home. I had never had a dog and I was a little scared. Now one year later I don’t know what I would do without him. I loved Marley and Me. I thought it was very funny and kind of moving at the end. Oh and by the way my dog looks just like the badddd Marley.

  5. Barbara Kay
    Posted on April 8, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    I think this was a very good movie. Very sad at the end, but would watch it over and over again. I do have a eight year old that didn’t cry and I did. So, who was the mature one here??

  6. Frank Laker
    Posted on April 8, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Death is part of life – those that are trying to keep their kids ‘safe’ from the reality that dogs die are doing their children a large disservice.

  7. Debi
    Posted on April 8, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    I had just seen the trailers on TV.
    I thought I was renting a comedy. Indeed, in the beginning I was laughing at this puppy/dog. Being a ‘normal’ dog owner – who has owned more than my fair share of pound puppies over the years I could relate to what Marley was doing.
    What I wasn’t prepared for was the ending and the overwhelming loss I felt all over again for each of my pets (or furbabies as I refer to them).
    I should have done a little more reading up and saved this movie for a time when I really needed a good cry!

  8. Melany N
    Posted on April 8, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Some people are taking this movie too seriously – it is a story about a man, his wife, their naughty lab and their life together. Unfortunately, miscarriage, swimming naked, the dog getting his balls cut off, and the dog dying are all a part of his life story. I never read the book, but I knew from the very beginning that this flick was going to show the dog being put to sleep. How did I know?!?! Because that’s what happens to all dogs. I’ve had to put down two childhood dogs, and I’m only 28. I own 2 labs now, and I couldn’t stop crying thinking about the babies I’ve seen put to sleep, and the ones I will eventually have to. It’s part of life, and it’s sad that some people think it’s inappropriate for anyone of any age to have to witness the death of a dog in a movie. It’s real, but it’s fake. Come on.

  9. T
    Posted on April 9, 2009 at 9:53 am

    I just saw this movie and I loved it. Wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I thought it would be another cute dog movie but it wasn’t. It was about a couple taking on a dog and caring for him through all the rough patches. It was funny and serious and sad. I laughed and I cried. I have lost a lot of animals in my life. Either to not being able to keep them anymore or them passing away. As for the scenes that everyone is talking about…..the pool did you see them naked??? whats to say they didn’t have suits on. People it is your inmagination that the writers have you thinking they are naked.. My son is 9 and he watched it too. The scene of the miscarriage children don’t know what that means, My son didn’t even notice that no questions. As for the swearing or the adult content that you say there is look at all the other movies out there and tell me they don’t have it in there and like one commentor said it is pg Parental Guidance this is where the parents choose if they should let the children see it or not. My opinion from the 3 of us we have 6 thumbs up dad is buying the movie to add to the library we already have.

  10. dana
    Posted on April 9, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    I liked the story, but I believe you can get the story across without language and bedroom scenes that would leave childrens mind’s wondering. I would not reccommend it for children to watch. Use a cuss box and have the remote ready to fast forward if you do.

  11. Kathy
    Posted on April 10, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I loved the movie! It is like out house, always something going on with the pups.(we have 3) I will say I cried towards the end but I still think it was the best movie I have seen for quite a while. I think it is a movie every animal lover should see.

  12. Jessica
    Posted on April 12, 2009 at 8:57 am

    A good movie but definately not kid friendly. I had to explain pregnancy tests and skinny dipping to my nine year old. Also she wanted to know why the charater lost her baby so that was another lesson about miscarriage. The language was also very disturbing for being a PG rated movie. As an adult I did like the movie but again,it is not for kids.

  13. Concerned Parent
    Posted on April 14, 2009 at 10:44 am

    This movie is absolutely horrible! I have 7 year old twins who cried non stop after the movie. It is not a family orientated movie. The supposedly funny parts are not even that funny. The ending is beyond horrible! I never would have rented this movie had I known it would be so depressing! Not for kids at all! Most of the movie is written for an adult’s mentality, the kids were bored, and the ending was heart breaking! It took me 2 hours to get my kids calmed down. Tried watching Americas Funniest Videos afterwards to cheer them up and they wouldn’t even crack a smile. Don’t waste your time with it unless you want to mop up tears all night long!

  14. Marcy
    Posted on April 16, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Junior was a terror until he was 5, then settled down to guard and entertain our children. For 16 years he provided us with many wonderful times and super memories. Marley and Me captured the spirit of the loving relationship we shared including the heart rendering decision to put him down. Thanks for enlightening those without pets how much richer their lives would be with a trip to the shelter.
    Two thumbs up.

  15. Kathy
    Posted on May 15, 2009 at 7:28 am

    Great story/movie. This is true life with all it’s up’s and downs. No sugar coating here. We lost our black lab 4 weeks ago. This is a family movie, it is about a family and the journey. It is hearfelt, and truly loving.Happy an dvery sad, but such is life.

  16. Livia
    Posted on September 13, 2009 at 9:12 am

    What a great movie. The sad part is the dog Marley dies at the end and otherwise all the other parts of the film was entertaining, cute and dog Marley was cutie pie in this movie. Perfectly rated.
    It shows a lesson, also. It shows to take care of your animals that you love and fun with. I have cats and that inspired me, to take care of the cats more! Have fun with your pets while they are around because when they are gone, they’re gone forever when they die but they will forever be in your heart.
    I think is is great movie for kids and it seems like a family movie. It is a memorable movie.
    The only part was when the dog died, that was so depressing. My family member who watched it with me, sobbed for thirty minutes during the movie and sobbed like ten minutes after the film Marley & Me. I had tears during the film, it was plain sad at the end and they get you there, really. Great movie and entertaining!

  17. Kim
    Posted on October 11, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    I Just saw this movie again for the 5th time. I love this movie every time. I too have a yellow lab that looks just like marley. hes is 9 and has been called the worst dog ever many times. For instance we went out on the boat without bringing him once and came home to all our comforters chewed up.Now he goes out on the boat every time with his own life jacket and people just laugh how much he gets excited to go! lol or when we got all brand new carpet and came home to poop all over in every room. lol but we keep him why? because we love him so much. Every day when I come home from work hes in my sons room on the bed with his head resting on the windowsill. Its like when I walk through that door all the stress from my day goes away because he is so happy to see you no matter what kind of day you had at work. All hes thinking is the ball in his mouth is for going outside to play fetch. I am 33 and only 2months of my life has been without a dog! People who have animals, the way they care about things is so much different then people who dont have any animal at all. So for all those people that have been there like me and have had to put many animals down which im right there by them every time making sure its my face they see before they go up to doggy heavin This is the best movie ever made which my 11 year son also agrees while hugging our lab he knows that some day it will all come to an end but that is a part of life. 2 THUMBS UP!

  18. Ray Watson
    Posted on October 21, 2009 at 10:26 am

    It was alright.

  19. tomktm
    Posted on January 4, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    This was a fantastic movie. I feel so out of the loop because I just saw it… actually I’ve seen it 3 times in 2 days. I have a black lab who is 13 years old and i’ve had her since she was 4 weeks old. It’s uncanny how much I can relate to the story line of this movie. Even though watching this movie is a tear jerker because my dog is in the twilight of her life, I still say it’s one of my favorite movies of all time. I’m not a very emotional person but everytime I watch this movie I cry. If you ask me, a movie that makes you laugh or cry is a success.