Film Review: Marley & Me

Utterly delightful, fact-based story of how a loving but unruly yellow Labrador brings joy and occasional tsuris to a young Florida couple and their offspring makes for perfect holiday entertainment.

Director David Frankel already proved with The Devil Wears Prada that he knows a thing or two about delivering irresistible, intelligent, well-crafted material to the masses. Marley & Me, like its predecessor, is also easy-to-swallow, middle-of-the-road entertainment that is a tad manipulative. But remember why most people go to the movies? And, after all, it’s that season.

Among the movie’s assets are its gorgeous south Florida scenery and the extreme charm and coziness of its other main location, a rustic suburban Philadelphia stone farmhouse. And there are the 22 yellow Labradors that stand in for the eponymous Marley as he goes from pup to old-timer in under two hours…so factor in cute times 22.
As the sunny tale begins, John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and wife Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) escape the chill of Michigan to take new jobs as journalists at rival West Palm Beach area newspapers. Not quite ready to grow a family, John, having bought a line that dogs are easy, brings home a Lab pup that he names Marley.

The pup is adorable, but he grows into a bundle of energy and then a handful that the couple cannot subdue. The couple is humiliated when the 100-pound cyclone is kicked out of obedience school by roaring trainer Ms. Kornblut (Kathleen Turner, in what unfortunately amounts to just a cameo).

On the work front, John deals with editor Arnie Klein (Alan Arkin), a no-bull, vet journo right out of The Front Page who assigns John obits and methane-leak stories before saddling him with a column rather than the harder-edge news John wants to cover. John’s idol, in fact, is pal Sebastian Tunney (Eric Dane), a fiercely handsome Sebastian Junger kind of manly journo who chases girls as avidly as he pursues edgy stories in far-off places. Predictably, John somewhat envies Sebastian’s freewheeling, higher-profile life. But the columns—whether about Marley or other personal observations—have caught on big-time.
Meanwhile, Marley runs, smashes, destroys, escapes, challenges, embarrasses. But, like all dogs, Marley loves. The Grogans love back and tolerate his bad behavior, even as babies one, two and three join the family.

While the film delivers an abundance of Marley antics as he chews up furniture, devours valuables and frustrates pet-sitters, it is also a consideration of family, loyalty, what makes relationships work, and those things that make life worthwhile. Spanning the story’s 14 years, director Frankel and editor Mark Livolsi do a great job with structure and the passing of time.

Marley & Me ends with an emotional gut-punch that will leave few cheeks dry. But audiences—and there should be plenty of them—will go home with smiles on their moistened faces and ready with big hugs of gratitude for their family pets. Like these pets, Marley & Me is about what makes life good.