– Summary –
Director : David Frankel
Cast : Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Alan Arkin, Eric Dane, Haley Hudson, Haley Bennett, Kathleen Turner, Nathan Gamble.
Year Of Release : 2008
Length : 115 Minutes
Synopsis: A journalist couple move to a new city, get a new puppy to avoid having children, have children anyway, and discover themselves along the way.
Review : Overlty manipulative, sentimental and cliched, Wilson and Aniston ensure this film transcends the icky, happy-sugar genre the film so obviously portends to be, and turn what would normally be a miss on DVD into a surprisingly entertaining film.
Let’s get something straight right off the bat here folks. I hate movies where I am emotionally manipulated by insincere, generic storytelling. I hate it. Stories where you just know the ending well before it happens. To those who would say “hang on Rodney, isn’t that what movies are all about? Making you get hooked into the story?”, I say “yes, that’s true, and normally I’d look at a film like Marley & Me and avoid it like the plague. Films with animals as a central character take one of two route:. A) the animal is an underdog of some sort, who has to undergo a series of trials and tribulations before proving himself worthy of praise and awards (like any movie with a horse in it), or B) the animal dies at the end and we all cry. I hate crying over animals dying, because I am a soft girly-girl, and I hate it even more when the filmmakers telegraph such an event well before it occurs.
That said, I don’t want to spoil this film, so let’s just say that, one way or another, by the end of this film you’ll be crying, but in a good way. Marley & Me came as a little surprise, because I hadn’t expected a whole lot. I knew the film was based on a book some guy had written (I saw it in an airport lounge while waiting at Heathrow once) and figured “right, another film based on a book…. limited appeal and badly condensed narrative… how good could it be?”. The answer to that question is, amazingly enough, quite.
The blame for this film’s appeal can be laid squarely at the feet of it’s two human stars, Jennifer Anniston (who has always been a little ho-hum in films, as far as I am concerned) and Owen Wilson, who, were it not for his suicide bid would cop a lot more flack from me about his film choices. Wilson strikes me as a desperately unfunny actor, getting by on his looks and his accent, as well as a decidedly oddball charm. What Hollywood manages to do, though, on a regular basis, it put two stars in a film together who manage to have some decent chemistry. Like Matthew Maconnoughey and Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days, for example. Shite film, great leading chemistry. Same thing here: the film runs on about half pace for the most part, but Wilson and Aniston keep this thing glued together simply be having great chemistry. Wilson’s laconic, laid back approach gels perfectly with Anistons shampoo-commercial-style flouncing, her perpetually confused look working well with Wilsons hang-dog expression.
Speaking of dogs, the undisputed star of this film is Marley, the rambunctious, untrained wrecking ball of canine that bounds across the screen making sure you love him no matter what. If you had a dog like this in real life, it would be a short trip to the vet for either a snip snip or a sleep sleep, but when you see him on film tearing shreds off everything from clothes and shoes to drywalls and vehicles, you think he’s gorgeous. Like I said, it’s a film thing, and it’s manipulative as hell. From the time he is a puppy, to the very end of the film, Marley is a dog you’d love to have, or thank God you don’t have, depending on how you view canines.
Aniston and Wilson play Jenny & John Gorgan, a pair of journalists working for separate newspapers. When Jenny begins to think about motherhood, and John isn’t ready, to thwart the ticktock biological clock they purchase a golden retriever puppy, whom they name Marley. Marley, however, proves to be a handful, being almost untrainable and exceptionally active. as the film progresses, we follow the relationship of John and Jenny as they have varied success in their careers and their lives, as they grow older and begin a family. All the nuances of life are played out through the film, including the sense of being out of control, of wondering if you’ve made the best of your life, all the second thoughts and regrets. While the script could have been fairly cliched, and filmed as such, both Wilson and Aniston give this story more credence than it possibly deserves.
The film remains fairly anecdotal in it’s structure, relying more on simple, elegant style than a truly dramatic film would require: the film feels like drama-lite, a kind-a wannabe drama mixed with tinges of melancholy comedy and messages about family and priorities. Not having read the original book, I can’t lay claim to saying how accurate the film portrays Grogans life, but the man seems to have led a pretty charmed one. If I had to describe this film in a single word, it would be “relaxed”. And while perhaps not having the muscle of a serious drama, or the comedy weight of a Judd Apatow film, Marley & Me is a pleasant enough experience in itself.
I have to mention the appearance of the wonderful Alan Arkin, who seems hell-bent on a career playing pretty much the same character each time: he barely has to move his head to elicit a laugh, his eyes simply radiate the emotion he intends. Mind you, his ability to life even a second rate character such as John Grogans editor into a first tier player in this saga says a lot about Arkin. I love to watch him, and for those unfamiliar with some of his best work, go check out Little Miss Sunshine or the recent film version of Get Smart. On the downside, the presence of Eric Dane playing exactly the same character type he does in Grey’s Anatomy is a little disconcerting. Is Dane becoming typecast as the “hot guy with no ethics who sleeps around whenever possible”, because it’s fast looking that way. His performance here is not really great, and although a spur for Grogan to get his own life together, isn’t that big a catalyst anyway.
If I had to watch Marley & Me again, it will probably be too soon, considering this film doesn’t bear too many repeat viewings, if any at all. The story is fairly standard, a coming-of-age story for adults, if you will, that’s been done plenty of times before, and marginally better. Still, Aniston and Wilson are drawcards for this film (aside from the obvious canine one, that is) and they perform admirably. It is an entertaining film, for sure, but there’s not much beneath the surface to warrant further exploration from a single viewing.