Marley and Me (2008) dir. David Frankel
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Eric Dane, Kathleen Turner
“Marley and Me”, with maximum mainstream accessibility, manages to encapsulate the joys and pains of family through the life cycle of man’s best friend. A sharply written, cliché-free script from high profile screenwriters, Don Roos and Scott Frank, elevate the material above a mere dog-picture.
Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston play John and Jennifer Grogan, a pair of journalists living in Florida, opposite personalities, John the laidback procrastinator, Jennifer the type-A meticulous planner , yet lifelong partners destined to be together through thick and thin. In order to fill the gap meant for a baby, John gets a dog to start off their family. And why not the good old American dog – the golden lab. Marley, named after Bob Marley, is a terror from day one – chewing everything in sight, jumping on visitors, humping their legs, running off into traffic etc etc.
As time flies by Jennifer and John eventually get pregnant, thus changing their lives even more. The farther along into real life the more they realize they have to give up some of their dreams and aspirations – the inevitable compromise that comes with adult responsility. John’s dreams and desires to be a New York newspaper man like his single bachelor friend takes a backseat; Jennifer decides to become a stay-at-home mom thus sacrificing her career for the family. The consistency throughout their lives is Marley, who continues to get into trouble and make their lives hell. At one point John and Jennifer consider giving Marley away, a crucial compromise they are unwilling to make. In this moment they realize giving up on Marley is like giving up on one’s family – that important element of their lives which they had put ahead of everything.
In traditional animal pictures the humans are usually the secondary to the cute furry stars. We’ve seen too many inadequately drawn characters, essentially cardboard sieves designed to fill the space in between the scenes of dog rambuntctiousness. The first act feels like this. Frankel uses the first 30 mins to establish the puppy-cuteness we all need to see in a dog picture.
But then the human characters take over from the dog with surprising grace. Jennifer and John experience all the difficult moments suburban middle-class white Americans face. Marital discourse, family planning problems, the difficulties raising children, career anxiety and the financial pressures that go along with a big family. “Marley and Me” comes across as familiar but not predictable.
Expecting that the film will encompass the life of Marley, we know that we may have face Marley’s death. I won’t say what happens at the end but it’s a surprisingly emotional climax giving great perspective to the relationship of dog and man.
“Marley and Me” is available on DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment