Marley & Me Review

“Marley & Me” does not prey entirely on our soft side for dogs, nor does it aim for laughs caused by animal hi-jinx. It’s a touching film with a warm spirit that manages to shake off any tearjerker stereotypes that most people would be quick to slap it with. That’s better than at least 75 percent of current films with the labels “romance” and “comedy” associated with them.

It tells the story of a dog, but “Marley & Me” is equally about the start of a family. The film covers a lot of chronological ground and quickly. John and Jenny (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston) start the film married and an hour later have three kids and a dog. That dog would be Marley, a yellow lab the couple got on clearance when they were still wavering over whether to have kids. Marley is a terror of a dog when it comes to behavior, but “Marley & Me” never fully mutates from romance to dog shenanigans comedy. Writers Don Roos and Scott Frank refuse to cave in to making this a film about a crazy dog and “The Devil Wears Prada” director David Frankel supports them fully. When Marley has some kind of episode, it’s quick and punchy, leaving only the effect that Marley adds to the struggle of making a family work.

What neither Frankel nor the writers can overcome in adapting John Grogan’s book, however, is the challenge of putting so much physical time into a two-hour film. They find a way, but the story rarely has a chance to breathe or take root in the mind because so much happens in the course of ten or even five minutes. Films that span a lifetime usually end up in the two-hour plus time category for this reason.

Consequently, Wilson and Anniston never seem to age. (“Jenn’s held up well” says Eric Dane, the best friend, to Wilson when they encounter each other toward the end of the movie.) Your empathy will grow for Marley, but the characters don’t quite have enough time to germinate. Missing are the little moments that really show great character because the film is too busy passing through time.

Both stars are at their best in “Marley,” with Wilson getting to be a toned-down and mature laid-back joker as opposed to an immature laid-back joker. Anniston gets to combine her romantic comedy quirkiness with the occasional flip-out as well, which she’s executed numerous times before.

I did have a personal beef with Wilson’s character being able to support three kids and his stay-at-home wife on a journalist’s salary (which is doubled at one point in the movie), but the film is otherwise logical and transitions exceptionally well. Roos and Frank write in a number of clever montage alternatives that are attention grabbing. One such scene is Wilson doing voice over and reading single phrases one after the other about what is happening in his life and another shows how Marley torments the baby sitter as John and Jenn vacation to Ireland and Jenn’s voice over is of the instructions they left behind.

The family and dog elements blend in nicely, but missing from “Marley & Me” is some resonance. It all makes sense and sure, the dog was family and dogs love unconditionally, but the film leaves itself no time to show instead of tell about what Marley taught them. Another example of this is Jenn yelling at John about how difficult it is to watch their kids and Marley and how she never realized it would be so hard. The trigger is pulled too early with use of dialogue when some effectively drawn out scene writing would’ve captured that idea easily.

Nevertheless, “Marley” remains a sweet-natured and likable if not lovable film that captures true moments of romance, family and pet ownership without ever giving in to a single convention that most “dog comedies” employ with reckless abandon.

3.5/5 Stars

Marley & Me (2008)
Directed by David Frankel
Written by Don Roos and Scott Frank, John Grogan (book)
Starring: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Anniston, Eric Dane, Alan Arkin


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