- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by David Medsker
arley & Me,” based on John Grogan’s best-seller about his loveably incorrigible dog, is every bit the shamelessly manipulative tear-jerker that you’d expect it to be. Luckily, the filmmakers did something incredibly smart in order to prevent the action from becoming too syrupy: they hired Scott Frank (“Out of Sight,” “Minority Report,” “The Lookout”) to write the screenplay, and his off-kilter humor saves the day. It’s not enough to save the movie as a whole, but it makes things a heck of a lot more tolerable.
Owen Wilson plays Grogan, a writer who relocates from Michigan with his wife Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston) to Miami at the suggestion of his friend Sebastian (Eric Dane). John and Jen both land jobs writing for major Miami newspapers, and John, suspecting that Jen might be feeling the urge to start a family, surprises her by taking her to a dog breeder in hopes of stalling the baby talk for a few years. There is a litter of Labrador puppies, and they pick the “clearance puppy” (he’s $100 less than the others), and name him Marley, after reggae legend Bob Marley. Marley is an affectionate dog but completely unruly, eating through everything in the house (even drywall). Attempts to train him professionally are fruitless, and by the time children enter the picture, the now stay-at-home mom Jen snaps from the strain of dealing with screaming kids and a disobedient dog. John, however, uses Marley’s exploits as fodder for a new column, and becomes a big hit.
The script is very deliberate in balancing the Marley with the Me, and it proves to be a smart move. Had the movie been nothing but Marley misbehaving, it would have worn out its welcome before the one-hour mark. As you might imagine, though, the ending is all about Marley, and just to ratchet up the hankie factor – I’m not revealing a spoiler by telling you the dog dies, am I? – they lean on the kids (they have three by this point) to tug those heartstrings until they snap. And the worst part is, it works. It’s cheap, and it doesn’t quite work on a “My Dog Skip” level, but it works.
You wouldn’t think that a manchild like Wilson could handle a role like John Grogan, but he does rather well, turning in arguably his most adult performance in years, maybe ever. Aniston can do this stuff in her sleep, but when she finally hits her breaking point with Marley, you feel every ounce of rage that she’s feeling. So much so, in fact, that it’s rather easy to emotionally check out during the weepy finale. Eric Dane (McSteamy from “Grey’s Anatomy”) is a perfect choice to play the happy bachelor Sebastian, but it’s Alan Arkin, who plays Wilson’s editor, who owns this movie. Much like his work in “Get Smart,” he steals every scene he’s in, wringing belly laughs from the smallest of lines. If I had my way, Arkin would be in every movie ever made.
Critics love bashing movies like “Marley & Me” for their overwrought sentimentality – we’re all heartless bastards, don’t you know – and while “Marley” is just as guilty of going for the Big Cry as your typical Debra Winger movie, the equal focus on both the adult subject matter and the dog make for a more enjoyable experience than, frankly, I was expecting it to be. Way to go, clearance puppy.
Bad Dog Edition Blu-Ray Review:
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Fox’s Blu-ray release of “Marley and Me” is centered almost exclusively on the mischievous title character, but can you really blame them? Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay off quite like they had hoped. Most of the included extras are completely forgettable with the exception of a lengthy collection of deleted scenes (26 minutes worth, to be exact) and a gag reel, while the “Animal Adoption” featurette is admirable but completely unnecessary. Also included is a picture-in-picture video track containing tips from professional dog trainers, but the real treat is the addition of both a DVD and digital copy of the film.