In an utterly objective sense, I really should have liked Marley & Me. After all, this was one of the rare moments where, as a dog lover, I actually fit into a film’s so-called target audience, which 20th Century Fox painted with the broadest brush strokes in the most disingenuous of promotional campaigns. That adorable Yellow Labrador, who looks just like my dog, reeled in my interest just like so many others. Of course, this is an adaptation of John Grogan’s bestselling memoirs that follow fifteen years of a dog’s life with his human family. As a film, however, Marley & Me ends up lifting a leg on its source material and doesn’t even remain faithful to the simple concept expressed in its title. Instead, this film should have been titled, A Schmuck, His Job, & His Unrelentingly Whiny Wife. P.S. Impossibly Cute Dog Really Tears Shit Up. Unfortunately, not nearly enough of Marley the Dog exists in this extreme tear-jerker that boasts name recognition for its male and female leads, both of whom satisfy the stereotypical yet accurate description of “limited range.” Certainly, you wouldn’t be alone when falling for the film’s deceptive publicity, that is, unless you read the book first, in which case you’ll recognize the good chance of leaving the theater with an endlessly sobbing child.
Some books, no matter how many copies sold, just aren’t meant to be movies. However, I have no doubts that, despite its many flaws, this film will clean up at the box office. Hell, a top-three box office weekend has been a virtual certainty ever since those massive hunks of cardboard, which showed a “Marley” puppy wearing a shiny red ribbon as a collar, hit theater lobbies. Oh sure, the dog is cute, but this film doesn’t qualify as a substantially faithful adaptation of the book’s mood and spirit. John Grogan’s memoir is arranged, unsurprisingly, in episodic fashion. In fact, each chapter of the book feels like a longer and more comprehensive version of what were probably Grogan’s individual newspaper columns. In the leap to the big screen, director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) and two seasoned screenwriters, Scott Frank and Don Roos, run this adaptation like they’re driving a stick for the very first time. They pop the clutch and hit the gas at the wrong moments, and this results in a first act that explodes with all manner of “Awwwwwww”; a second act that explores the marital distress of a dull couple; and a third act that pulls the dog back into focus for the depressingly grim finale. The book’s timeline remains mostly intact, but, somewhere along the way, the screenplay fails to translate the all-important connection of Marley to the Grogan family. Instead, Marley is used as a peripheral yet ubiquitous distraction and something to fall back upon for those “Awwwwwww” moments. It’s not that Marley doesn’t sincerely attempt to, uh, chew the scenery, for he does plenty of that, but he’s just not allowed to run with it. Even more important, the film doesn’t justify the ending as part of the whole and, as a result, seems quite exploitative.
John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and his wife, Jenny (Jennifer Aniston), are two up-and-coming journalists. This was, of course, a time when newspapers were largely solvent and viewed an effective columnist as a circulation-grab instead of an unnecessary expense. The newly-married pair flees wintery Michigan for West Palm Beach and John, hoping to deter Jenny’s biological clock, gifts her with a “discounted” puppy. Well, the dog is a complete hellion and chews up everything from his own leashes to the entirety of the garage, including several chunks of drywall. As a reaction, Jenny and John mostly do nothing, and, naturally, the supporting players are much more interesting than the dull couple that the film concentrates upon. Alan Arkin (Arnie Klein) makes a big splash as John’s editor, who comes off as quite amusing even though his character, who graciously doubles John’s salary when wifey quits working, is an extinct species. Sebastian Tunney (Eric Dane) is also sporadically amusing as the free-spirited, globe-trotting, and shamelessly womanizing colleague of John, who watches wistfully as his buddy gets all the fly tail. Eventually, John and Jenny procreate (with an appalling lack of subtlety) thrice, which presents the opportunity for some overwrought melodrama that is quickly resolved by the cuteness of the dog. Oh yeah, then the filmmakers proceed to the incredibly sad, ultimately protracted, and relatively painful ending of, well … let’s just say that, on a positive note, the film’s ending leaves no room for a sequel. Happy fucking holidays, suckers!
Did I mention that there’s a cute dog in this movie? That’s also pretty much the filmmakers’ excuse for sloppy editing and a general lack of attention to detail. At the beginning, we’re supposed to believe Aniston and Wilson as young newlyweds, but Aniston looks every bit the 39-year old that, on a whim, tossed a late-80s scrunchie in her bridal hairdo. As for Wilson, try as I might, it’s hard to forget the guy tried to commit fucking suicide not too long ago. One thing that works here for Wilson is that he’s playing against type, so he gets to demonstrate his ability to function as more than the usual subversive sidekick type of character. Superficially, Wilson still wears his notoriously shaggy mane that partially obscures his face, so he is more believable while aging fifteen years than poor Aniston, who has, I am afraid, further handicapped her limited acting range with the usual suspect, botox. Essentially, Aniston is and will always be a sitcom actress. Her inflexibility and absence of tricks up her sleeve (other than a decent hair stylist and shameless publicist) is blindingly apparent, but I will say that the woman knows how to pick her projects well.
Regardless of its ability to deliver the promised goods, Marley & Me will prevail solely on its cuteness before audiences even realize they’ve been snowed under. Without spoiling the ending that’s already been spoiled, let’s just say that those graffiti-marked posters are absolutely nothing compared to the onscreen events depicted in the film’s final stretch. What’s even sadder is Kathleen Turner’s solitary scene as a bitchy dog trainer who expels the leg-humping Marley from obedience school. Remember that scene in Romancing the Stone where Turner and Michael Douglas slip and slide into muddy waters and land with his head between her legs? Yeah, this is nothing like that at all.
Agent Bedhead (a.k.a. “Kimberly”) lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her two adorable fucking dogs can be found at agentbedhead.com.Good boy! Now, do that twice more.
Film | December 30, 2008 | Comments ()