Original US release date: December 25, 2008
Production budget: $60,000,000
Worldwide gross: $242,717,113
Ah, the joys of pet ownership. There have been many, many films about the bond between animal and human throughout the years. Few seem to have resonated as much or left the same lasting impression upon viewing audiences as David Frankel’s 2008 family film Marley & Me. Based upon John Grogan’s memoir of the same title, the film is a relatively simple and straightforward chronicling of the growth of a family, using their adventures and relationships with their dog Marley as the backbone of the story.
When Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) suggests to her husband John (Owen Wilson) that she’s interested in having a baby, he follows the suggestion of his friend Sebastian (Eric Dane) and buys her a dog for her birthday as a deterrent. Little do they know just what they’ve gotten themselves into as Marley turns out to be quite the handful. Resistant to training or any sort of discipline, Marley runs the house and the family as John and Jenny struggle simply to keep up with Marley’s rambunctious nature and behavior.
Truthfully, there isn’t much story to the film. Nor is there much in the way of unpredictability or surprise. But the film largely manages to overcome those handicaps and charm its way through in spite of them. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston are largely to thank for that. Wilson is his typically entertaining self, complete with his characteristically dry humor and everyman sensibilities. It’s easy for the viewer to identify with his portrayal of John as he tries to fake it until he makes it, never totally confident in his life choices or the direction he’s headed in, but always willing to try anything if he believes it will lead to the best outcome for himself and his family. Aniston also plays to type as the caring and occasionally temperamental partner, guiding John along the proper path and keeping his attention focused on the bigger picture and the longer game.
The movie is truly about them, even though Marley essentially receives top billing. But, as with any pet, Marley is a member of the family and his adoption is where the word “family” begins to earnestly apply to our cast of characters. Before Marley, John and Jenny are a couple. Sure, they’re a married couple, but the word “family” doesn’t tend to get tossed around until there are more than two involved. And Marley makes three.
Marley serves as their primer, as pets often do for young couples. If they can’t take care of a dog, how will they ever care for any potential children? Marley puts them through their paces and challenges them to the best of his ability. I was surprised by how well the humor interwoven into these moments actually works. And Wilson made me laugh out loud on a surprising number of occasions with perfect delivery of his lines from Scott Frank and Don Roos’s screenplay.
As the years roll by at the same alarming pace that we all eventually come to understand, The Grogans’ lives shift, morph, and grow, and Marley is there to experience it all. There are ups and downs, happiness and sorrow, and Marley remains the constant. A couple of these moments play as slightly inauthentic in their delivery. And many of them are of the clichéd variety. But that’s okay. They’re clichéd because we see them a lot. And we see them a lot because they happen often in real life. And this film is based on real life. I don’t personally know which elements in the film are entirely true to how they occurred in real life and which aren’t, but I’d prefer clichéd truths to exaggerated fiction in a story like Marley & Me.
When it comes down to it, the film makes a statement not only about the relationships between pets and their owners, but also about the relationships between people. There are none more pure than a faithful pet (or a child). All pets want is to love and to be loved in return. They care not what their owner looks like, how much money they make, or what their social status happens to be. Pets won’t talk about you behind your back, cheat on you, or post intolerant or tone deaf memes on social media. They trust their owners and they are trustworthy in return. It seems like such a simple idea, yet one that so many people have a hard time mastering. Much like Wonder, Marley & Me isn’t as technically or objectively sound as its reputation suggests but, also like that film, it’s so relatable and moving that it doesn’t matter. That’s what art is supposed to be about. Ultimately, the film serves as an emotional reminder of the important things in life, and an entertaining one at that.
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