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Marley And Me

Fox // PG // March 31, 2009
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted April 3, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
I am an unabashed, unashamed "dog person," something that evidently started from my earliest childhood. In fact it is a bit of oft-recounted Kauffman family lore that one day as a very young child, when I was particularly irked at my Mother (not an unusual circumstance), I came up with what I considered a reasonable threat that would scare my Mom into complete and utter capitulation to my infantile whims: I told her I was going to inform Happy, our family Basset Hound, that she was a dog. Now that might strike some of you as patently bizarre (and I'm not denying it was), but it points out that in my childhood the dogs were considered part of the family, nearly human despite an excess of hair and a tendency not to walk on two legs (though we did have a dog who could dance quite effectively). If you're of that same ilk, chances are you're going to find a lot to love in Marley and Me, the big screen adaptation of John Grogan's mammoth bestselling memoir recounting his adventures with his rambunctious Lab Marley.

The film is anchored in Grogan's book's essential truths, while expanding the focus and fictionalizing some characters and elements. If you're looking for cinema verite documentary filmmaking, David Frankel's unpretentiously heartstring-tugging opus is going to disappoint you. If you're open to a family comedy-drama "plus a dog" (as Kathleen Turner comments in an extra), Marley and Me will provide an enjoyable, if low key, look at what it's like to welcome a furry friend into your family, and then become inexorably attached to them, no matter what crazy behaviors they exhibit.

The film takes the basic facts of Grogan's (Owen Wilson) life and more or less presents them accurately: he's a reporter who instead finds himself writing a column for a Florida newspaper, a column which routinely features the exploits of Marley as its defining focus. His wife Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) is actually a more successful feature writer who ends up shelving her career in order to manage a growing brood of children, not to mention the incorrigible Marley. That sets up one of the central conflicts of the film, and one that's not really part of the book: Grogan lusts after his buddy Sebastian's (Eric Dane) freewheeling reporter lifestyle, while Jenny herself lusts after any sort of career after she finds she can't "have it all," despite the modern sentiment that women can do everything. There's a "grass is always greener" ethos that runs through this film that gives it a surprisingly bitter undertaste at times, despite its ostensibly family friendly profile.

The fact is that Marley, despite supposedly being the focus of the film, is really a kind of crazy comedy relief supporting player for what amounts to a big screen dramedy portraying the growing pangs of a young family as it moves through the first 15 years or so of its life. While there are occasional verbal gags from the actual humans (one of Grogan's sons lets slip that Grogan says the unexpected third child's name is "Whoops," for example), most of the actual comedy is of the physical slapstick variety, and that's courtesy of Marley (played by 22 dogs of various ages). We get Marley attacking and manically leg humping a Nazi drill sergeant of a trainer (Kathleen Turner, in a wonderful cameo), or Marley barnstorming through an open house and diving into the backyard swimming pool, leaving Wilson to innocently ask the real estate agent, "Whose dog is that?" But those who might have been misled by Marley's marketing campaign into thinking this was a laugh out loud hilarious comedy probably walked away from the film confused and perhaps even disappointed: there are certainly comedic elements at play here, but the film is surprisingly tender, and actually dark at times, as it charts the course of some characters who have to struggle to discover that, a la Dorothy Gale of Kansas, there's no place like home.

Wilson and Aniston make an appealing couple, even if Wilson is awfully tamped down at times (and I had to wonder, rightly or wrongly, if his recent personal troubles had anything to do with it). Neither of these parts screams "Oscar," but the two manage to create a believable couple who manage to weather various storms together. Alan Arkin contributes a couple of decent moments as Wilson's Florida editor, and Eric Dane is suitably smarmy, yet likable, as Wilson's globetrotting reporter buddy. Frankel frames the film with several idyllic shots of both Florida and Pennsylvania (where the Grogans end up moving toward the end of Marley's life), giving the film a nice visual sweep that helps open up some of the more claustrophobic family scenes which constitute the bulk of the piece.

My sense is you don't necessarily have to be a dog person to ultimately end up liking Marley and Me quite a bit. It's not earthshaking, or particularly innovative in any way, but it expresses some quiet truths about family, loyalty and perseverance without beating the viewer over the head. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll probably hug your own pet a little closer after watching the film. There are worse ways a movie can affect you.

The Blu-ray

Marley and Me's AVC 2.35:1 transfer is nicely sharp and full of beautiful, well saturated color. This film simply doesn't present many opportunities for knock your socks off visuals, but Frankel's eye for detail, especially in the location footage, gives this BD some added punch. The entire film is bathed in a sort of amber glow which can give some of the outdoor scenes a soft quality, which I must assume was intentional. Overall a nice looking BD, if nothing that is going to make your jaw drop.

Again, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is perfectly clear and crisp, but due to the film's focus, there's nothing amazing here to report. Dialogue and score are mixed well, utilizing the front and side channels effectively, while the occasional ambient noise (especially in some of the thunderstorm scenes) fills out the surround channels. There are also DD 5.1 mixes available in Spanish, French and Portuguese, as well as subtitles in all of the soundtrack languages, in addition to Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean.

Aside from a bonus SD-DVD copy of the film, and a digital download disc, the BD itself sports a few OK extras, none of which are going to set the world on fire, but which taken together provide a little insight into the making of the film. Three featurettes spotlight the dogs who played Marley and go into some of the training regimens utilized to get them to perform some amazing behaviors. A sillier featurette posits Marley as an "auteur" out to make his own film, while bringing up the rear are a fairly lame gag reel, some deleted scenes and, more usefully, a short piece on adopting rescue dogs. In an aside, I will tell you one of our current family dogs, the best dog my wife or I have ever had in either our youths or our years together, is a lovely mutt we got from a rescue group here in Oregon, evidently part Golden (we just sent away for a DNA test to finally discern what exactly he is, as he's quite unusual looking).

Final Thoughts:
Anyone who enjoyed Grogan's book is sure to get a kick out of this film version, even if the movie strays from the book in more than one instance. Furthermore, animal lovers of any kind are no doubt going to recognize a little bit of their own pet in Marley, and no doubt a little bit of themselves in the appealing dynamic between Wilson and Aniston. This isn't a blockbuster by any means, but it's solid, enjoyable family fare that gets its job done just fine. Good dog. Recommended.

"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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