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    Marley & Me

    Mon, 22 Dec 2008 13:41:53

    Movie Reviews: Marley & Me

    What's odd about Marley & Me, which is being promoted as the story of "the world's worst dog," is how much better it could have been without that darn canine. Also, parents should be aware that ads making the movie look like a family-friendly romp are misleading. Marley & Me includes not only a tear-jerkingly traumatic miscarriage, but also a beloved pet's death that feels like it drags on for dog years.

    If young marrieds John (Owen Wilson) and Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) Grogan never adopted the unwanted "clearance puppy" Labrador that John names after Bob Marley, the movie would have been about a likeable couple dealing with diverging career paths, planned and unexpected parenthood, John's restlessness over not getting what he thought he wanted from life, and Jenny's frustration despite getting exactly what she thought she did want. Burdening them with a cartoonishly destructive dog who tears up furniture, eats and poops jewelry, and disastrously flunks obedience school feels like a gimmicky spoonful of schlock to make the melodrama go down. Imagine seeing a Marmaduke newspaper comic in which the owners of that not-so-Great Dane weep over losing a baby. That's not "dramedy," it's just plain dumb.

    Directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada), the movie is adapted from a bestselling non-fiction collection of newspaper columns written by the real-life Grogan. Maybe Marley's misadventures play better in print than they do on the screen, but some of his scenes in the movie are more frightening than funny. When the Grogans finally bring home their first bundle of joy, it's genuinely scary to see the huge, hyperactive, and perpetually hungry Marley anywhere near the tiny newborn. That's "scary," as in, "making the audience wonder if the Grogans are out of their freaking minds."

    There's only one occasion when either Grogan gets fed up enough with Marley to suggest getting rid of him. But when Jenny insists that Marley has to go, John knows she will change her mind, because the dog is "part of the family." So instead of lugging the pain-in-the-neck pooch to the pound, he takes Marley to the high-rise bachelor pad of his hunky friend Sebastian (Eric Dane), a globe-trotting hard-news reporter whose career John envies.

    Bafflingly, however, we see no ensuing scenes of Sebastian's time spent with the dog. Did Marley cause any of Sebastian's would-be conquests to flee in slobber-drenched horror? Did he cock a leg on those framed black-and-white prints Sebastian leaves propped along the baseboards? Did he playfully push Sebastian off the balcony? This not only was a missed opportunity for more madcap movie mayhem, it makes no sense in the context of Marley's incorrigible reputation.

    It's almost as if Marley was appended to a scene that would have played better without him. It would have been more interesting to see John, not Marley, kicked out of his house and forced to spend a few nights with his ladykiller friend while Jenny cooled off.

    Which comes back to the fact that Wilson and Aniston's gently amusing chemistry would have been more enjoyable to watch if their story weren't subverted by the cheap-laugh antics of an obnoxious four-legged third wheel. It's doggone strange when one of a movie's title characters turns out to be an annoying distraction from the parts of the plot that work. Too bad this dog wasn't gone.

    —James Dawson
    12.22.08

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