Having read the book Marley & Me by John Grogan last year, I had high expectations for the film based on said book. In hindsight, I should have reminded myself that, generally speaking, when books are made into films, there’s a lot that gets lost, misplaced, or blatantly ignored.
Such is the case with Marley & Me, which might have been better titled “Me, My Wife, My Job, My Best Friend, My Kids… Oh Yeah, and That Dog Marley”. (I guess Marley can take comfort in the fact that he at least got top billing in the title, because that’s about all he got out of the deal.)
Everything I loved about the book — John and his relationship with Marley, how Marley grew on Jennifer during troubled times, Marley’s key role in saving their neighbor, and the fact that Marley really saved John and Jennifer (emotionally speaking) — all of that was stripped in the film. Instead, the director opted for sun-kissed scenes with dogs romping playfully on the beach, montages of “bad behavior”, and a storyline that’s more about John’s career path than his dog. Huh?
For those few/two of you who have yet to read the book or see the film, it’s about newlyweds John (Owen Wilson) and Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston) Grogan, who move to South Florida to start their careers as journalists. Not quite ready for the child society expects them to pop out, the Grogans try on a dog instead. That dog, which they name Marley, is a beautiful, roly-poly yellow Labrador with a wild streak.
As Marley grows, but does not grow out of his crazy/wild habits, the Grogans realize that they may in fact own the world’s worst dog. No matter, because although Marley almost eats them out of house and home, literally and figuratively, he is a central part of their family, which soon expands to include children (after a tragic false start).
While the best parts of Marley get glossed over in the film, viewers do get every nuance of John’s budding career — how he wants to be a serious journalist but is relegated to a column, and how Marley ends up providing lots of fodder for the column (a lot of which viewers never see).
I’m not sure who to blame for this mess called Marley & Me. Is it the fault of director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada), who seemed to turn some serious (and seriously funny) Marley moments into a two-minute montage that could have been a toothpaste commercial? Or is it the fault of screenwriters Scott Frank (The Lookout, The Interpreter, Out of Sight) and Don Roos (Happy Endings, Bounce, The Opposite of Sex), who tried a rom-com family flick on for size and failed miserably?
I don’t blame Wilson and Aniston, both of whom share chemistry and charm and add spark to the film. Another small gem was Alan Arkin, who played John’s boss, Arnie Klein. And in a role not mentioned in the book, Eric Dane plays John’s co-worker, Sebastian, who provides the stereotypical “single guy” perspective.
By the final act of Marley & Me, with crying kids and adults, an aged, dying dog, and, eventually, a backyard funeral, I felt emotionally manipulated. I might not have felt this way had the film contained any sort of character development regarding the John/Marley relationship, other than using Marley for slapstick humor.
Marley & Me is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, with audio in English Dolby Digital 5.1, as well as French and Spanish 2.0, and subtitles in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish. At 115 minutes long, the film is too long, but because it lacks any of the vital elements of the book, it really could use another good hour to develop a meaningful plot.
Extras include about 26 minutes of deleted scenes, all nonessential. There are three featurettes: "Finding Marley", which features Clyde, Jonah, and Rudy, the three adult Marleys in the film; "Breaking the Golden Rule", which features chats with Wilson, Aniston, Dane, Kathleen Turner, Frankel, and the real John and Jenny Grogan; and "On Set With Marley: Dog of All Trades", a throw away that features an ‘interview’ with Marley. There’s also a PSA of sorts, "Animal Adoption", which points out that shelters are overflowing with dogs. Next up are "Purina Dog Chow's Video Contest Finalists", featuring 17 dogs, and "Purina Dog Chow Hall of Fame". Rounding out the extras are a short gag reel, and "When Not to Pee", an outtake that’s not as funny as Frankel seems to think it is.
That Marley & Me did so well at the box office does not surprise me (let’s just say I’m glad I wasn’t one of the millions duped into rushing out and seeing it, given how much I/we loved the book). That anyone who read the book would prefer the film, however, would shock me.