Sometimes life has a better idea.
-Arnie Klein (Alan Arkin)
John and Jennifer Grogan (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) were a young couple of newlyweds with their whole lives in front of them, much of it planned out in advance by Jenny. The one thing neither of them had planned on was Marley. But life has a tendency to get in the way of one’s plans and with some love, laughter and yes, even heartache, sometimes the real thing is so much better.
Marley & Me is the heartwarming story of a dog and his family. While John and Jenny may think that they adopted a new “clearance puppy” for themselves in Marley, we learn pretty early on that it’s the other way around. Marley is more than a handful and at times more than they can handle but never any less than a member of their new family. As we watch their lives evolve into something entirely different from what they had intended or planned, Marley remains the one constant counterbalance: when they are at their happiest he’s at his worst and when they are at their lowest he’s right there to lay a warm, furry head on their lap.
Every year, Hollywood churns out a new batch of dog movies, but it’s rare that one has the heart of Marley & Me. The film gives us a believable look at the joys and pains of life through the eyes of the whole family, not just a family coping with a crazy dog throughout their lives. Poignant and at times provocative, Marley & Me gives one of truer accountings of a dog’s life and the family that took him in as a puppy, trained him (or tried to), and watched their children grow up with him and it does it with all of the bittersweetness of life. The fact that the film is based upon the real-life memoirs of columnist John Grogan definitely works well to flesh it out and make it “real”.
The movie does drag just a bit in the middle and might have benefitted from a firmer editing hand, but if the worst that one can say about a film is that we get too much of a look at the life of a real American family then that’s okay. The rest of the pacing and direction is fine: just as you’re starting to ask yourself why anybody would keep this out of control dog, Marley does something that melts your heart and reminds you all over again. Much like life, the highs in the film are always tempered with some sort of conflict (typically with Marley) and the lows are always accompanied by a knowing whimper or a much-needed hug.
Marley may be “the world’s worst dog”, but ultimately has a heart of gold – as does the film – take it from me…and Marley.