Friday, December 10, 2010

MARLEY & ME (2008): A Dog Story

If I didn’t already know an owner of a 120 pound yellow lab, I would say the affection that the characters exhibit towards their destructive canine in Marley & Me was a bit overstated.  Yet I imagine almost every dog owner can identify with what occurs here.  Dogs can always be forgiven.  Eventually every one of them – especially those that are completely dependent upon their owners – will at least temporarily repent from their mischief making and show affection for their owner.  Admittedly, sometimes it’s in the form of slobber or lying on the furniture next to that person while leaving fur practically everywhere.  But for a minimum amount of attention as a reward, a dog will provide as much warmth as any creature can possibly give.  Thus, Marley & Me was a box office success because it never once suggests any notion that would surprise any dog owner.  And for those not convinced of the virtues of dog ownership, it throws in Owen Wilson as John Grogan and Jennifer Anniston as Jennifer Grogan both playing the parents of three, and these two stars give us a two hour family drama about as compelling as any television sitcom like Friends.  However, I mostly forgive the movie for any lack of substance because the movie never postures itself as being anything but a film about a mischievous dog living with a family almost too adorable to be real.

John is a newspaper columnist that eventually incorporates the adventures he has with Marley into every morality lesson he tries to invoke.  Jennifer is a newspaper reporter that wishes she could achieve the kind of readership that John has received.  The two purchase Marley as a puppy in hopes that raising him will give them some insights on what it will be like to raise the children they are planning on having.  Jennifer often is frustrated by Marley’s behavior, but never so frustrated that she actually carries through on her threat to leave if Marley does not go first.  The couple then has three children that all grow to adore the destructive mutt.  And Marley gives John so much material for his column that the family is able to make a number of moves including one from Florida where we get to see Marley running along the beach to one in Philadelphia where we get to see Marley frolicking in the snow.  Eventually, Marley grows old and suffers the inevitable maladies that all dogs probably do.  The family finally puts Marley to sleep to alleviate his suffering and we’re all supposed to cry when the children each provide Marley with their own little eulogy.

I will say that that relationship between Marley and each individual character somewhat resembles real life.  On the other hand, the beautiful parents with three close to perfect children, comes just about straight from a Father Knows Best episode filmed back in the 1950s - though even that family didn’t have parents that looked like Owen Wilson or Jennifer Aniston.  Since John is reluctant to change jobs from a cub reporter to a columnist, he is only induced to do so when his boss, Arnie Klein (Alan Arkin), offers to double John’s salary.  I’ve never had a boss quite that generous.  Money is never a problem for the average family drama now shown in the theatre, and Marley & Me is no exception.  The death of Marley adds that one element of tragedy to the film, though it’s hardly enough of a depressant to keep any child or parent away.  We pretty much had advance notice in the way this film was promoted that Marley would not survive to the end of the film.

I find little fault with Marley & Me because the outcome of the film was precisely what Director David Frankel intended it to be – a best seller.  What’s of more significance are that writers and critics try to give meaning (with lengthy analysis) to the film that it does not have.  I read one critic suggest that Marley & Me gives a much more authentic portrayal of the modern family than did Revolutionary Road.  Though I’ve already panned Revolutionary Road, I have no reservations towards throwing more dirt upon it.  Revolutionary Road was an extremely disappointing film.  Still, it seems completely implausible to somehow suggest that Marley & Me satisfactorily addresses what is missing in Revolutionary Road.  The two films have nothing in common.  One movie is a crowd pleaser and the other is not, and it’s asinine to even suggest that the two films attempt to address the same theme.  I think that some reviewers feel some deep (and bogus) intellectual need in justifying their positive review of a film that was mostly intended as entertainment.

It doesn’t hurt to observe some escapist drama now and then to escape the more depressing news we are exposed to every day.  We do, however, need to place some limits on such sentimentality because the world is not that bad that we need to become inundated with charming tales about heroic animals.  Hollywood has never been able to restrain itself when a plot idea comes along that promises to make the movie industry a great deal of dollars.  If not for Marley dying in this original episode, I could imagine next hearing about Marley & Me II, Marley & Me III or even Son of Marley.   Old Yeller came out in 1957 and Marley & Me was released in 2008.  Maybe once in every fifty years a movie such as these are appropriate.  Let's enjoy these movies for what they are.  No more than that.

July 30, 2009 
©  Robert S. Miller 2009

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