30 July 2009

Movie Review: Marley & Me


Marley & Me
2008, 115mins, PG-13
Director: David Frankel
Writer (s): Scott Frank, Don Roos, John Grogan (novel)
Cast includes: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Alan Arkin, Eric Dane, Kathleen Turner
Release Date: 25th December 2008

Do you love dogs? Do you own a dog? If the answer to both those questions is yes than go spend time with your pooch rather than watch “Marley & Me”, an overcooked and occasionally boring drama set around one couples growth due to their troublesome mutt. It’s not an offensively bad picture and does boast characters that you grow to empathise with but ultimately the story is to drab and the conclusion to emotionally manipulative for a recommendation to be on the cards. The best bits all involve doggy mayhem and canine lovers pining to see this film could probably experience the same fun with their own furry little chum, minus any over zealous dollops of tiresome drama stacked around it.

John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and Jennifer Grogan (Jennifer Aniston) are a pair of newlywed journalists looking to start a bright and blissful life together. They get a new house, they both get new jobs but whilst Jennifer pines for a baby, John doesn’t yet feel ready. In a tactical manoeuvre he gets her a puppy in the hope that it will sate her appetite for youngsters but little does he know that said dog will become a major part of their future lives. The film moves through the various job switches, the romantic turmoil and the growing family that the Grogan’s endure whilst always keeping an eye on the pesky but loveable canine of the title.

Both Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson do good work in “Marley & Me”, conjuring up a palatable and believable dynamic that translates nicely into an onscreen relationship. The film is told mostly from the perspective of John (it’s on the real John Grogan’s newspaper columns that the film is based) and Wilson does a slap-up job of creating a down to earth and nice guy who the audience will happily deal with. Aniston gets marginally less time to strut her stuff and thus the interpretation of Jennifer isn’t quite as developed or genial as that of John but ultimately the actress’s perseverance and natural charisma comes through to rescue the character. Indeed whilst watching “Marley & Me” I couldn’t help but feel both Aniston and Wilson should be ploughing deeper and more purposeful frontiers, this patchy fairytale more than a little beneath their abilities.

The screenplay for “Marley & Me” works around the slice of life style columns that John starts to pen and uses them as a template for a timeline. It’s hard to tell just how many years “Marley & Me” traverses but it’s at least a decade and probably more, a hard pitch to sell in 115 minutes. As a result instead of naturally building and gracefully developing onscreen the story jerks along in a forced and unnatural way, building Marley into a decent character but in turn sacrificing some bountiful plot exploration or development of supporting players. It’s focal to the movies success that the dog should be a 3-D entity by the end and on those grounds the filmmakers succeed but sadly at the expense of several more interesting plot points and engaging ideas. Maybe this isn’t the filmmakers fault but rather that of the source text, could it be that Grogan’s little memoirs just shouldn’t have been adapted into film? It’s quite likely that director Frankel has made the best “Marley & Me” possible, maybe the story of this roguish little puppy just wasn’t meant to inhabit cinema screens for nearly two hours. Whatever the case the adaptation is rough and fully stale by the halfway point.

Technically the film looks good and the various dogs playing Marley do a great job but there is no getting around the fact the Grogan’s story just doesn’t play out well onscreen. Frankel and co. have done themselves no favours by letting it reach such an elaborate length, something this fluffy really ought to be at least 20 minutes shorter than “Marley & Me”. Certainly Aniston and Wilson do fine jobs and there are moments where the movie looks to be taking interesting detours away from Marley and his shenanigans but ultimately the filmmakers are incapable of keeping the focus detached from the puppy for to long. Things aren’t helped by the weepy ending, intended to have people mowing through hankies, it actually bores and feels more than a little emotionally manipulative and artistically lazy. It would be nice to say I found “Marley & Me” the delightful cinematic experience that so many others are reporting but ultimately it’s to flawed and cack-handed to warrant such a tip of the hat.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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