I’m still not quite sure what Marley & Me was trying to accomplish. If it was trying to make me want a dog, it failed. If it wanted to bring out an emotional response other than boredom, it failed. If it wanted to make me laugh, well, it only mostly failed. And yet, despite this, it isn’t a terrible film. I can’t say it was awful, because it wasn’t, but I don’t see what really make it good, or what its goal was.
The story is adapted from an autobiographical book by John Grogan. In the film, John is played by Owen Wilson, certainly showing that he is a decent actor this time around. The movie deceptively wants you to believe that the story centers on a small, misbehaving dog, Marley (played by 22 different dogs throughout the film). The dog will grow up, and we will get to see it either continue to misbehave, (the comedy aspect of the film), or grow up, (the heartwarming, drama aspect).
I say “deceptively” because that isn’t really what the film is about. Yes, there is a dog, and yes, we do get to see his life progress. At the beginning of the film, he is the center of attention. He doesn’t stay that way for long though. John and his wife Jen (Jennifer Aniston) have lives of their own separate from their dog, and it quickly becomes clear that we are actually watching their lives progress more than the dog’s.
This is too bad, because when the story focuses on the dog and his shenanigans, Marley & Me is actually quite entertaining. The first 40 or so minutes were quite good, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. And then the film shifted from Marley’s progression through life to the maturation of John and Jen. They want children, a bigger house and a better career. All admirable goals, but when the film is a lot more entertaining when we get to look at a dog, this jarring shift in focus is off-putting, and also quite boring.
When there is a dog, there is an automatic “d’aww” factor involved. You want to look at the dog, because it is so cute. When the couple goes to a farm to adopt the puppies, you could almost hear the filmmakers “d’awwing” through the screen, just because of how cute the puppies were. John and Jen pick the runt of the litter, as it instantly bonds with them.
Once he is brought home, Marley starts causing mayhem. Just in his first night, he destroys half of the garage. After he is brought inside, things get worse. Marley destroys furniture, carpets, and anything else he can get is teeth into. This is funny. This is the kind of thing you want to see, especially when the film was promoted as a film where the sole focus was on the dog and his hilarious antics.
Once the dog grows older, the film’s focus shifts, and things stop being funny or exciting. I didn’t care that Jen and John had marital, job or any other kind of problems. I just wanted the film to switch its attention back on the dog, something it didn’t do right up until the very end. Jen and John bored me, and while their relationship did feel real, it didn’t make any difference as to whether or not their segments were any fun to watch.
The main problem that Marley & Me has is that it was just too long. Cut out most of the parts that deal with Jen and John’s relationship and you’ve got a solid movie. I understand that it was an adaptation of a book, and that cutting that out probably wasn’t something that they could legitimately do, but the inclusion of those segments hurt the final product.
Honestly, cut the film down to 90 minutes, most of that focusing on Marley and you’ve got a really solid film. Sprinkle in enough of Jen and John to bring a little bit of humanity into the film, and you’ve now created a film that won’t be boring, but will also have just as much of an emotional impact.
The emotional core of Marley & Me is another problem that it has. It tries too hard, particularly at the end, to stir emotions. It didn’t work. I didn’t feel anything from beginning to end. No joy, no sorrow, nothing. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but when the couple is quite unintelligent, and the dog is the only thing that makes the film lively, I found it really hard to care.
The final issue the film has is its couple. I’m really surprised that this was based on a true story, and that the author was okay with himself being portrayed in this way, because he and his wife come off as incredibly stupid. Any sane person would have taken this dog back, or given it away. People don’t put up with that much, only to get nothing back. That just isn’t how it works. There isn’t much believability when it comes to the couple keeping the dog, and while giving it away would have not made a good movie, not doing so made it hard to believe in the story. Maybe tone down the antics of Marley, and then we might have an easier time believing that they would keep him.
If you want a story about a cute dog causing trouble, Marley & Me isn’t for you. Don’t be fooled, because the dog doesn’t become the primary focus of the film. Instead, we get to watch a couple begin to raise a family, and deal with all of the problems that arise in this task. The film tries to hit hard emotionally, but it fails to do so. The dog is cute, and the parts of the film that focus on it are fun, but the rest of the film is too boring and long to bother with. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t great either.