(2008)3Cammila CollarAs a modest little dramedy about the everyday adventures of starting a family, Marley & Me is pretty solid, but as a movie about the joy and heartbreak of owning a dog, it goes straight for the jugular. Based on the autobiographical book by columnist John Grogan, the story effectively begins with newlyweds John and Jennifer (played Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) adopting the titular blonde lab puppy as a sort of precursor to having kids. Marley soon grows into a wacky, 95 lb. canine wrecking ball, and serves as the constant in their lives as they navigate the waters of buying houses, having babies, choosing career paths, and (of course) accidentally discovering the meaning of life. (Hint: It was there all along!)
Movies that make a big deal out of celebrating the mundane, and try to make every husband, wife, and parent feel like the heroes of their own epic little saga are a dime a dozen these days, but Marley & Me avoids a fate of sappy, generic mediocrity with three little words: the dog angle. As animal lovers the world over will attest, there's nothing quite like the relationship between a person and a pet, and by evoking that distinct alchemic bond whenever things are about to turn stale, the film stays fresh, funny, and very touching. The movie as a whole may fall short of classic status, even by humble standards, but all the material that directly involves Marley is genuinely amusing and sweet. It nails all the particulars about the things dogs do and the things dog owners do, which is why it scarcely needs to be said that the subset of viewers likely to get the most out of the movie are dog people.
But be warned: a dog-loving disposition will assure you'll get the most enjoyment out of Marley & Me, but the same affection will also assure you'll get the maximum pain. It's no secret that the film follows Marley's life with his family from beginning to (bring the tissues) end, and that inevitable, poignant conclusion is just as brutally excruciating as it sounds. And by excruciating, I mean that the final 20 minutes could easily reduce a room full of jaded film critics (all hypothetical, of course) to a blubbering collection of audible sobs and sniffles. In the end, this is Marley & Me's litmus test: if the very idea of a flashback montage looking back to puppyhood makes you want to weep, then this is the movie for you. All others can skip this one, and wait for a cat movie.