Marley & Me Directed by: David Frankel
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Alan Arkin, Eric Dane, Kathleen Turner
Time: 2 hr 5 min
Plot: A family is both cursed and blessed by the most hyperactive, naughty, and nuerotic dog that ever lived.
Who’s It For? Dog lovers and fans of the book.
Expectations: The previews were funny and I really enjoy both Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. I was expecting cute and light and funny.
Actors: Owen Wilson as John Grogan: Owen Wilson, like Vince Vaughn, is at his strongest when he is given room to adlib. In Marley & Me he is stymied by his lack of wiggle room, which probably stems from the fact that he is playing an actual person. Wilson is always adorable, but his performance feels somewhat restrained and, at times, disingenuous. It just isn’t him and he isn’t as good when he has to strictly play somebody else. Score: 6
Jennifer Aniston as Jenny Grogan: Aniston is darling, as always, but it doesn’t have anything to do with how the character is written. You like her, because it’s Jennifer Aniston—get some total unknown in that role, and what you end up with is a movie upended by the antics of the dog. Score: 6
Alan Arkin as Arnie Klein: Arkin is one of my personal favorites, but he has almost nothing to work with here. The character is flat and only makes an appearance when it’s necessary to further the plot—stripped down, it’s a means to an end, and that is a terrible waste with a talent like Arkin. Score: 5
Eric Dane as Sebastian: Sebastian is Grogan’s free-spirited link to the good ol’ bachelor days. Dane is there almost purely to serve the function of the Ghost of Christmas Past. He does have the one really non-dog related funny line in the movie, and Dane is so charming and fun to watch, it almost makes up for the fact that what you have is another workhorse character—furthers the plot, doesn’t further the depth of the story. Score: 5
Kathleen Turner as Ms. Kornblut: Holy moly! A younger crowd would be completely unfamiliar with Ms. Turner in the sizzling Body Heat and so they will have no concept of how immensely cruel Father Time has been. She looks swollen and unwell and she’s in the movie for a little more than five minutes. It just so happens that it is the funniest scene in the entire film, but unfortunately, it is not due to Turner’s own abilities—she’s just the butt of the joke. Score: 1
Talking: Let’s not kid ourselves here, the dog is the star of the movie. The dialogue is only enjoyable when it relates to the dog or whatever havoc the dog is wreaking. Any dialogue meant to develop the characters is rudimentary and perfunctory, which is incredibly uninteresting. For example: “Did you get that job? You know, the one at the Herald?” “I sure hope so, since you got the job at the Post.” “It’s because we’re both journalists.” Score: 4
Sights: The look of the film is strong and enjoyable. There are a number of really delightful slow-mo scenes involving the dog and all the montage shots are well done. Score: 7
Sounds: The soundtrack works. It’s mostly orchestral, but the film opens with REM’s Shiny, Happy People and there is a tremendously beautiful scene set to The Verve’s Lucky Man. At one point in the film, when the family is considering a move to obnoxious suburbia, the film is playing a swingin’ lounge cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit, which is brilliant and hysterical. Score: 7
Best Scene: The best scene is when John and Jenny take Marley to obedience school. It was, by far, the funniest scene, and I won’t give anything away except to let you know that my friend laughed so hard, he had a coughing fit that lasted for the next ten minutes.
Ending: I’m not going to lie to you; I spent the majority of the movie only mildly amused and I still cried at the ending, which really ticks me off. The ending is exceptionally manipulative and drawn out. When I cry in the movies, it means the movie has been touching my heart the whole way through; if I cry at a movie that I thought was just okay, it means that movie is yanking with unnecessary roughness on my heartstrings. Here, I cry foul. If you are more sensitive than I am—which is probably the majority of people—the movie will yank out your heart and jump up and down on it. You have been warned.
Questions: Why didn’t I read the book? The movie’s mediocre attempts to capture an incredibly popular book have inspired me to go back to the film’s origins, so I can experience the full impact of the story.
Rewatchability: Not really. Maybe so for dog lovers and sappy masochists, but I have no desire to sit through the movie again.
The story spans over the course of more than a decade and yet the two main characters do not change in either personality or physical appearance. Wilson’s trademark blond shag is identical the entire movie, and Aniston looks like she dozed off in a nuclear power tanning bed even when her character is living in the NE in the snowy dead of winter. There is no attempt to age either of them or make them seem any wiser or more mature, save giving them offspring, and that is just unforgivably lazy filmmaking.
But apparently, no one cares, because we’re all there to see the dog, anyway. Remove the dog from the story, and you’re left with nothing more than attractive, but bland and unpalatable gruel. You can’t just cast two charismatic, lovely people and then move on without any attention to realism, dialogue, chemistry, or humanity. Not only that, but the movie tries to cram in far too much story in two hours—for the American attention span, I can only assume—which makes the film feel like a Hallmark card on fast forward.
The film is cute and people will enjoy it, but no one is going to remember it in a month. It’s the distraction du jour before we move onto something newer and shinier, and ultimately, I feel like it’s a regrettable treatment of someone else’s true story.
Final Score: 6/10