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Overall Rating
2.08

Awesome: 4.17%
Worth A Look: 8.33%
Average: 8.33%
Pretty Bad50%
Total Crap: 29.17%

2 reviews, 12 user ratings


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Marley & Me
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Okay, So It's A Dog"
1 stars

I must confess that while I can more or less tolerate them in real life, provided that there are properly chained, leashed or tethered so that they are unable to leap up and tear out my throat at a moment’s notice, I am not that much of a fan of films that are centered on adorable dogs doing adorable things while all the humans look on adorably. This isn’t necessarily a hard-and-fast rule by any means--in the past, I have looked favorably upon such films as “My Dog Skip” and “White Dog”--but I could never get into the adventures of Benji even as a child, I found watching the adventures of Winn-Dixie to be as exciting as actually spending time in a Winn-Dixie and while I am certain that I will be professionally obligated to do so at some point in the next couple of years, I would just as soon stick my face into a box fan than contemplate the possibility of a “Beverly Hills Chihuahua II.” (And just before any of you armchair shrinks can begin to get all worked up, I did have a dog when I was a child, I loved her very much and outside of her passing, there were no traumas to speak of involving her.) I must also confess that I am not much of a fan of Jennifer Aniston. She may be a lovely, enchanting and wonderful person in real life but on the screen, she has always struck me as an utter bore--to me, she has all the charm, personality and sex appeal of the third-most-attractive cashier at Wal-Mart on any given Thursday--and the films that she has elected to appear in, excepting “Office Space” (which is hardly a “Jennifer Aniston movie” by any means) and the immortal “Leprechaun” (ditto, though the idea of a murderous leprechaun turning up during “The Break-Up” has its appeal) have been just as dull. Therefore, I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I didn’t particularly like “Marley & Me,” an adaptation of the best-selling book by John Grogan that features both an adorable dog and Jennifer Aniston sharing the screen. What was surprising, though, is that the film itself is bad enough in so many other ways that the dog and Aniston turn out to be the least of its problems.

When we first meet John and Jenny Grogan (Owen Wilson and Aniston) in the early 1990s, they are a fun-loving newlywed couple who have just relocated from Michigan to Florida in order to make it as journalists. While Jenny gets a job as a feature writer for the town’s big paper, John is only able to score a gig as a lowly local beat reporter at a rival paper. Jenny, as it turns out, is one of those highly organized and efficient people who has here entire future mapped out while John, not surprisingly, is one of those easygoing types who prefers to let things come as they may. When they finally hit the point in Jenny’s master plan that involves starting a family, John isn’t sure that he is ready for such a commitment and old pal/hot-shot fellow journalist Sebastian Tunney (Eric Dane) suggests that he and Jenny get a dog that can serve as sort of a trial run for their skills at caring for a living being. Before long, they adopt a yellow lab that they name Marley and let the grand experiment in parenting begin. For the most part, it fails due to a combination of the dog’s destructive tendencies and their apparent unwillingness to take any sort of responsibility in regards to training or disciplining him. They do take him to a trainer (Kathleen Turner) but the beast is so out of control that she actually kicks him out of the class for being too destructive. Nevertheless, they allow him chew up everything in sight and torture house sitters while they go off on vacation while doing little more than smirking about how they own “the world’s worst dog.”

Although their attitude towards the dog is a pretty good argument for their forced sterilization, John and Jenny wind up having three kids over the next few years (although you wouldn’t know it to look at Jenny) and find their lives changing wildly as a result--she finds herself feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood while John just tries to be mellow about everything. Another big change occurs when John’s editor (Alan Arkin) offers him his own column out of the blue. Like any true journalist worth his salt, John has serious trepidations about taking on the gig--after all, it means more prestige, more money and the chance to write about whatever he wants and all of that would just crimp his laid-back style--but finally does so and becomes a hit, mostly thanks to his columns about what Marley has recently trashed or excreted. Deep down, however, John still yearns to be a real reporter and when he hears about a job opening up at the Philadelphia Inquirer, he cheerfully chooses to throw away his column, no doubt to the relief of Carl Hiassen and Dave Barry, and moves his family into a sprawling country home that is easily within the price range of the average journalist--provided, of course, that said journalist is Charles Foster Kane. Eventually, John decides that, gosh darn it, he kinda, sorta misses his column and convinces his new editor to allow him to do that instead of the job he was hired to do. Needless to say, he manages to pull this one off and he and his family are all set to live happily ever after when tragedy suddenly rears its furry head.

Walking into the screening of “Marley & Me,” I just naturally assumed that it was going to be the cloyingly cute dog movie promised by the trailers and commercials. For a while, it is exactly that--the dog knocks over someone, gobbles up something or runs around like a loon while his human co-stars look on bemusedly while reminding each other that he is, gosh darn it, the world’s worst dog. At a certain point, however, it seems as if screenwriters Scott Frank and Don Roos grew tired of writing about doggie-related shenanigans. Unfortunately, they decided to shift most of the focus to a subject even less interesting than the dog’s hijinks and that is John’s journalism career. The film devotes an unconscionable amount of screen time to listening to him whining about how he wants to be a real journalist and how he just isn’t fulfilled by writing a column that everyone assures him on a regular basis is the greatest thing in the history of the printed word since the development of either the Gutenberg press or Mad Libs. There is so much talk about his fricking column after a while that even though even though I have never read a word of Grogan’s prose before in my life, there is so much self-aggrandizing talk about it here that I hope I never encounter as long as I live. My guess is that many of the people who will be flooding the theaters hoping to see the cute doggie film promised by the trailers are going to be deeply bored or annoyed by all the material involving his journalism career, especially since everyone knows that no one reads newspapers anymore. As for the lead actors, they correctly assume that viewers are going to be too busy oohing and aahing over the dog’s antics to notice if they are turning in good performances or not and so they do little more than stand around showing off their glossy coats, white teeth and nice postures while looking bemusedly at their canine co-star. The only problem is that when the focus shifts to them instead of the pooch, they retain that same approach and as a result, Wilson and Aniston come across as one of the duller screen couples in recent memory.

“Marley & Me” was directed by David Frankel, whose previous film was the hit adaptation of “The Devil Wears Prada” and while that particular effort wasn’t exactly a masterpiece by most artistic standards, he at least demonstrated a certain directorial style that helped keep things moving along. Here, he has forsaken any and all traces of subtlety for a overly broad approach that practically beats you over the head in every scene. Every emotion on display here, be it humor, pathos or outright tragedy, is so overplayed and oversold that instead of inspiring the emotional reactions that he is going for, Frankel’s approach only serves to annoy viewers who don’t require such a hard sell in order to respond to what is going on. For myself (and herein lies a Spoiler Warning for those of you unfamiliar with the story), the worst example of this comes during the end when Marley takes ill and eventually dies. As it turns out, the circumstances surrounding his passing are virtually identical to those that took the life of the beloved pet dog that I made reference to earlier. Therefore, you would think that seeing that played out on a movie screen might be enough to bring a tear or two to my eyes (hell, I even shed a couple when poor Charlotte the spider shuffled off this mortal coil in “Charlotte’s Web”) but I was so aware of the manipulation going on that I was too busy resenting it to have any sort of real emotional reaction of my own.

Of course, I know that there are many people out there whose views on “Marley & Me” are going to be diametrically opposed to what I have said and I anticipate that my e-mail box will be filled with irate notes from people wondering how I could possibly say such mean and nasty things about a movie featuring such a cute little doggie. Well, just to save myself the time and energy of responding to such questions, I will simply say that if you like movies about cute dogs misbehaving in the most adorable manner possible--and are willing to sit through a lot of dog-free job-related nonsense--you will most likely enjoy the film immensely and will pretty much ignore all of the points I have made. That is swell and I hope that you have a good time--such things are at such a premium these days that I wouldn’t want to deny them to anyone. However, if you do go and see this film, I would urge you to stop off at your local video store on the way home in order to rent “My Dog Skip” and see what a movie of this type looks like when it is done well.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17291&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/25/08 18:04:58
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User Comments

12/05/11 Pamela White the book was better but any dog owner can relate 4 stars
10/01/10 Simon Tried and true tearjerker formula, except it's a dog version. Pet owners prob like it more 3 stars
5/10/10 brian What a bunch of grouches here! Quite a nice film with likeable people AND dog. 4 stars
10/11/09 Cat Smith I had a dog and this film really sucked. Didn't like the family or the dog. 1 stars
4/08/09 Dan Too choppy. In the end I didn't care much about the family or the dog. Not worth watching 2 stars
4/05/09 Total Crap Boring, predictable. Turner and Hooch is so much better than this. Watch that instead. 2 stars
1/22/09 Michele Kay Too sad for dog lovers, no point to the movie. 2 stars
1/11/09 Sunny It is not the family movie it appears to depict. I would not take children to see it. 2 stars
12/29/08 Sandra Shaw dumb movie 2 stars
12/29/08 PAUL SHORTT TOO IMPERTINENT FOR A FAMILY FILM 2 stars
12/28/08 Benjamin Brandt I cried at the end and made sure my wife could not see the tear stains upon exiting. 5 stars
12/26/08 Greg Ursic I was surprised by the arc of the story - if you've ever had a pet will be able to relate 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Dec-2008 (PG)
  DVD: 31-Mar-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  25-Dec-2008
  DVD: 31-Mar-2009


Directed by
  David Frankel

Written by
  Scott Frank
  Donald Roos

Cast
  Owen Wilson
  Jennifer Aniston
  Alan Arkin
  Eric Dane



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