Marley & Me

Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, in Marley & Me

I want to ask you something… when was the last time you had a good cry in public? And I’m not talking about a bet lost on some football match or being part of a mass layoff at your company… I mean a GOOD cry….

I just experienced such a thing last night at a showing of Marley & Me, which had the whole cinema weeping for a good 20 minutes by the end of the movie. Not something I expected walking into the cinema, after all this film stars Shanghai Knight’s Owen Wilson and professional airhead next door Jennifer Aniston, and all I knew going in was that it was about a couple and their pet dog, Marley.

And for the first 70% of the movie it was just that.

Based on the New York Times bestselling autobiographical book by journalist John Grogan, it starts off innocently enough with a sappy sugar sweet scene of the young newlyweds running home through the snow from their broken down car, escaping a freak Michigan spring snowstorm on their wedding day.

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She, still in her full bridal outfit (obviously hours after the wedding), joining him to soak feet in the bathtub and sip champagne while he pours more sugar on with an “I’m so lucky speech”. The prognosis for Marley & Me was looking dim right out the gate, and I could only hope not showing my disappointment with my date would be the only value from sitting through this. Chick-Flick brownie points.

Relocating to Florida, the film goes on into the mundaneness of married life, jobs, friendship, a modest home, a crappy car and coming to terms with the surrender of the things of single life, painfully brought to the protagonist’s awareness by John Grogan’s best friend Sebastian Tunney, the stereotypically confirmed life bachelor, with whom he joins the staff of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as a journalist.

The movie plods on with more mundaneness; life in Florida, career issues, relating, the give and take (his wife has a more successful career at a competing newspaper), John’s envy of Sebastian’s success as a serious journalist while he gets stuck writing obituaries and minor news blurbs, finally settling into the role of a weekly columnist (shy-rocketing to success chronicling Marley’s antics as “the Worst Dog in the World”), and dealing with the biological urge to reproduce.

That’s when Sebastian recommends he get a puppy to put off the maternal urge in his friend’s wife for a while. So he surprises her with a puppy, and the movie transitions into a movie about how not to raise a dog.

First off, as a cat lover, this film hits all the button as to why cats are better than dogs. There, I said it. I prefer cats, and I’m a dude. This dog chews things, screws things, knocks things and breaks things’ all the things cats do less of. Marley doesn’t obey a single command and even gets kicked out of dog school, but there is no malice in his heart, just a wild nature! If it was my dog, I would have either trained it or found it someplace more suitable… maybe a barn yard.

But this dog grows on you, not in any Disneyesque manner of morphing into a human, but just by being a dog, and that’s when this movie really takes form. You see, Marley is just the thread that weaves together the life tale of this rather otherwise ordinary couple, through the ups and downs, the child births and postpartum depression, the career stagnation and the dull routine of a life that unfolds as the dog grows through the stages of his life (to show this, twenty-two different yellow labs play the part of Marley).

The time compression of 14 years of Marley’s life pulls you in like a whirlpool, slowly at first at the edges until you hit the center and the matter at hand becomes the whole center of your existence.

Towards the last 20 minutes of the movie, you really care about this couple, their family and their dog, the whole messiness of family life, surely the most boring subject matter that could possible be ever told on screen and yet, you start feeling these.. um… feelings, welling up from deep with in.

The whole cinema audience, men women and children, started getting glossy eyed, you could hear tissue packages opening, see the sly eye rubbing, but towards the end of Marley’s life, the sniffs and sobs began, sadness not that someone was sadly ending their life, but that they had a life so full and rich and full of love and hope and dreams that makes us all wish we could be so fortunate.

Which is why I find myself putting up with the sneers from my guy friends when I recommend it to them wholeheartedly, and why I suggest to you to take someone you love out for a couple hours of cinematic magic sure to warm your heart! Just be sure to bring enough tissues for both of you.

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