Don’t take your children – at least, those under the age of 16 – to see ‘Marley and Me’ unless, by chance, they’ve already read the book.
My oldest daughter, who’s 22, had read the book, and was very excited that I would join her in seeing the movie on its opening day, Christmas. We had planned to see a 3:30 PM show at a more upscale movie theater about 20 minutes from our home. After we arrived there a half hour before show time, we found out that ‘Marley’ was sold out – and that the theater was having only one showing of it. Also sold out: Valkyrie, Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire. We should have taken this sign from the Gods and gone home; instead, we tracked down the theater closer to our home (no stadium seating, but lots more room), to find out that their showing at a slightly later time wasn’t sold out.
If you’re not familiar with the story behind ‘Marley and Me’, I’m going to spoil the surprise for you right here. The movie is based on the best-selling book by John Grogan, most recently a reporter/columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The book is a compilation of columns he had written when he first started out as a journalist in Miami. Having been hired to produce a column rather than the investigative reporting he’d hoped to do, Grogan was stumped for subject material. Taking the advice of his editor (played in the movie by that ol’ irascible Alan Arkin, who has practically invented that character over the last decade), Grogan writes ‘about what he knows’: his life as a newlywed and the adventures he and his wife, also a reporter, face when they adopt a yellow Labrador puppy. The puppy was to take the role of a surrogate child for the young couple. As anyone, including myself, who has ever owned a Lab knows, they have the I.Q. of a legume and the personality traits of Borat.
As Grogan’s family grows to include three children, a mid-life crisis and a job change, the only constant in their household is that wildly entertaining idiot dog. In the film, the young couple actually take him to a dog obedience class, from which he’s promptly expelled by the trainer (played in the movie by a frighteningly masculine Kathleen Turner, who looks more and more like a transgendered man each time I see her on screen). Apparently, there was only that one session with a trainer, and Marley – named by Grogan on the ride home from the breeder’s after while a Bob Marley song was playing on the radio – never saw a whit of discipline since.
My daughter told me that the book was wonderful, entrancing, thoughtful, heartwarming. It made her laugh out loud. It made her cry at the end. She couldn’t wait to see the movie.
Basically, ‘Marley and Me’ is a quick compilation of bits and pieces from the book that the producer thought to be the most entertaining. Everything whizzes by (poor choice of words when describing Marley, whose urinary habits are questionable at best) in scatter-shot fashion. The movie feels so pieced together by incidents that I honestly believe were chosen for their outrageous nature. About midway through, I actually wondered what on earth this incredibly cute couple (deeply tanned Jennifer Aniston and sad-eyed, broken nosed Owen Wilson) saw in the mutt. There were random – but unrealistic – moments, such as when Aniston’s character arrived home from the obstetrician’s office after finding out she’d had a miscarriage – and Marley, who has the attention span of a flea, suddenly rests his chin on her knees, as if in comfort. Where did this behavior come from in a dog that was prone to eat dry wall?
The scenery is gorgeous. The Grogan family, every darned one of them, is gorgeous. The Main Line home that they purchase when Grogan takes the job at the Inquirer is stunning. (And also makes you wonder just how much the Inquirer pays its reporters/columnists. Small wonder the print media industry is in dire financial straits: the stone beauty with ponds and a barn would fetch a conservative $2,000,000 even in today’s real estate market).
Actually, the juxtaposition of the beautiful Grogan home is kind of thematic to the whole movie: something just doesn’t feel right. The Grogans never seem to age. Money never seems to be a problem. Except for a bout of second-baby stress, the couple never fights. They are just so darned cute, they’re unreal – much like their relationship with Marley seems to be.
But the worst part of the movie is saved for the end. While the Grogans apparently are ageless, Marley is not. A good half hour of run time is devoted to Marley’s decline in the most painful of ways. As Dad carts the heavy, aged Lab into the family station wagon for a final trip to the vet, we are privy to the pain of each family member, knowing that Marley is going to die. We’re even taken into the vet’s room where Owen Wilson gives his assent to have Marley ‘put down’ by injection – and we sit there, horrified, as we watch Marley close his eyes and die.
I swear to God, I have never heard so many people crying and sobbing in a theater as I did during the last part of ‘Marley and Me’. When the lights came up, people were still dabbing at their eyes. I have to confess that I forced myself to stifle a tear or two. No one wants to spend Christmas afternoon watching someone’s beloved pet die on a stainless steel table.
There were a few young kids in the audience when we were there. I honestly don’t know how they reacted because everyone left the theater so very quickly when the movie was over – no staying around for the credits for this bunch.
If you’re drawn to the movie by the television trailers that show lovable ol’ Marley dragging a table away on his leash, or prancing merrily in the ocean, or trying to ‘beat feet’ out of the Grogan’s car on his way to be neutered (although you don’t know that’s where they’re going at the time!) – please, keep this in mind. This is not a movie for the kids, unless those kids have hearts of stone and absolutely no affinity whatsoever for anything in the animal kingdom.
Do yourself and the kids both a favor. Go out and buy a copy of John Grogan’s book and read that instead. It will be a much more satisfying experience for everyone.