First there was Hooch from Tuner & Hooch, then came Beethoven from the Beethoven movies and now the newest addition to the “Dogs Gone Wild” litter is a lab named Marley. Marley & Me is directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) and is written for the screen by Scott Frank (Minority Report) and Don Roos (Single White Female). The story comes from the autobiographical book Marley & Me written by American journalist John Grogan.
John (Owen Wilson) brings Marley into his and his wife Jennifer’s (Jennifer Aniston) life hoping that he will help make Jennifer forget about her desire to start having children. Marley is known as the “Discount Dog” because he is the cheapest out of his litter. Maybe Marley’s asking price should have served as a warning to the mayhem that was about to begin. Soon after Marley arrives to his new home, his path of destruction begins. Ripped up pillows, holes in the walls, and piles of tipped over things are left in the wake of Marley daily activities. The movie follows Marley’s life as he grows from a “wild-eyed” pup to a calmer, “old-timer”. Along the way, we also see John and Jennifer’s family grow with the birth of children and John battle with trying to find career fulfillment as a journalist.
While Marley & Me tries to hit a home run with its comedy, it strikes out on several occasions. There are, however, two bright spots that help produce some laughs. The first is when John and Jennifer take Marley to a dog obedience class which is highlighted by Kathleen Turner as the hard as nails instructor. Ms. Kornblut (Turner) quickly learns that with all of her experience as a dog trainer, she also can not get Marley to stay under control. The result is a comical battle between teacher and student. The other comedy high point is when John has a heart-to-heart talk with Marley about how he thought his life was going to go while spraying down a pile of Marley’s stool looking for a valuable necklace that he bought Jennifer and Marley decided to swallow.
Marley & Me unexpectedly transitions midway through from a comedy about Marley’s exploits to a drama about John and Jennifer’s reaction to the increased responsibility of parenthood with John’s continued struggle to reach his career goals. While some people may find this disrupting, I did not. Even though Wilson and Aniston are known for the comedy roles, their performance here helps make that transition from funny to serious less bumpy.
While Marley will never win a Westminster Kennel Club dog award, his life journey does make for a pretty good matinee.