Is a dog truly man’s best friend? What does that saying even mean? I wondered this after walking out of “Marley & Me” last night. It shows a family dealing with the “world’s worst dog”, but despite the chaos the dog may cause, it is still someone who keeps them company and makes them happy in times of trouble. A companion always by their side. A man’s best friend.
“Marley & Me” is based on the best-selling memoir written by John Grogan. In the movie Grogan is played by Owen Wilson. He has just married Jenifer (Jenifer Aniston) and is settling in to a new job at a Florida newspaper and preparing for married life. The first step? Get a dog. That dog would be “clearance puppy” Marley. He doesn’t seem like much at first but within weeks the dog has destroyed the entire garage, ripped apart couches, and eaten dry wall (he doesn’t just chew, he eats it).
The rest of the film chronicles the Grogan’s married life. It goes through their ups and downs, good and bad, and children. All of these years of marriage are traced through the life of Marley.
You don’t have to own a dog to fall in love with “Marley.” It teaches lessons about life and brings laughs that anyone can feel.
The movie, for the most part, stays very true to the source material. Some key scenes had to be either taken away or shortened but director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”) still handles them well. Unfortunately, what is lost is a lot of Grogan’s witty narration and commentary on the scenes that made up most of the book. A lot of his observations have been used in ways to show the scenes, so in that way Frankel does the book justice. The film does display a great use of montages. Montages with Grogan reflecting on the past day for newspaper columns (most including Marley causing trouble) and instructing a dogsitter how to watch the dog are brilliantly done for a great comic effect.
The stylistic techniques used in a film like this are miniscule compared to the actual story. And what a finely told story it is. As a dog owner myself, I could connect with many of Marley’s most troublesome acts. I may not be able to name my dog “world’s worst dog,” but that doesn’t mean I’ve had to wake up to her barking on numerous occasions at 4 am on a school night. But in the way that Grogan can get over the destruction Marley caused, so can I. It’s because a dog doesn’t seem to understand anything its doing but can truly understand when their owner needs a friend.
I may have said this before but I am not much of a crier during movies (a few exceptions include “Life is Beautiful,” and a few sniffles during “Slumdog Millionaire”). I warn you, bring tissues, napkins, or what haveya when you see “Marley & Me.” The film is about the life cycle of a dog and it ends exactly where you think. And if you think I’m giving something away believe me, I am not. The concluding act of the film is heartbreaking yet heartwarming, because we’ve grown to love Marley and the rest of the characters so much that the loss is devastating.
A large part of what makes this movie works are the central performances by Wilson and Aniston, who manage to be so convincing as a struggling married couple. In the last few moments, Wilson absolutely shines. You can feel the emotion of his connection between him and the dog. In that moment, the connection between the two goes from an animal to human connection to a human to human connection. This is the message that Grogan intended.
When I first heard that “Marley” was being turned into a movie, I hesitated. I greatly enjoyed the book but when I thought of dog movie the first thing that popped into mind was a bunch of dancing chihuahuas. But “Marley” is far from that. It is a serious human story filled with hilarious moments of a dog simply acting like a dog.
“Marley & Me” is the rare movie for the family that anyone of any age can enjoy and feel something for. It shows that a dog’s will love you, no matter what you do to it, so why not love each other the same way? “Marley & Me” will give a new reason to give your dog a treat, just maybe not a “who’s a good boy?”
Other Great Dog Movies: All Dogs Go to Heaven, Homeward Bound, Oliver & Company