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"MARLEY & ME"
(2008) (Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A young married couple adopts a puppy that grows up into an uncontrollable dog and both adds to and complicates their lives as they go through career changes and the addition of kids into their family.
PLOT:
John (OWEN WILSON) and Jenny Grogan (JENNIFER ANISTON) are newly married, and their first move is literal, to sunny West Palm Beach, Florida. There, they end up as journalists at rival papers, but aren't competitive in such regards. She's a feature writer and he's a reporter, like his friend and coworker, Sebastian Tunney (ERIC DANE), although their editor, Arnie Klein (ALAN ARKIN), doesn't give John juicy or interesting assignments.

He's particularly put out when Arnie asks him to temporarily fill a columnist position, but John actually gets quite good in that role. And much of that stems from writing about the yellow Labrador retriever that he and Jenny adopt as a puppy rather than have kids, at least at first. Marley ends up growing into quite the rambunctious and destructive dog, although his owners take that in stride.

As the years pass and the children start coming along, however, Marley's behavior ends up putting an additional strain on John and Jenny's marriage, particularly when she ends up suffering from a combination of postpartum depression, lack of sleep, and crying kids. But despite the tension and Marley not changing his ways, his advancing years soon put the growing family's issues and career desires in perspective.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
When it comes to making movies, there are two distinct parts of the process. The first, of course, is the actual production where the director uses the script as the starting off point, and then assembles everything that's needed -- in terms of cast and crew -- to tell the tale in a visual form.

After that's completed, the studio's marketing department has to come up with a way to sell the picture to the most people possible as this is, after all, a business as well as an art form. That very combination, however, often results in resentment, surprise and/or disappointment as the publicity sometimes tries to pass off the art as something different than what it really is, catching both the filmmaker and public off guard.

Case in point is "Marley & Me," a dramedy about a rambunctious dog and his effect on the family that adopts and raises him from a pup through all stages of life. It's based on the book of the same name by newspaper columnist turned author John Grogan whose columns about his life and that titular dog were turned into that literary work that's now been adapted into a feature film.

Those who've read the book obviously know how it ends as well as other elements -- that similarly aren't always so cheery -- contained within the plot. For everyone else, however, the marketing for the film makes it appear to be a cute dog flick showing an adorable lab puppy wearing a holiday bow with the tag line "Heel the Love." That, and the fact that it's being released theatrically on Christmas Day seems like a no brainer for family friendly entertainment, right?

**Begin Spoiler Alert**

Well, part of it certainly falls into that category, but parents should be forewarned that the pic -- like the book -- doesn't have a traditional, kid-friendly happy ending (not to give anything away, but the story spans many years and thus takes the pooch into old age and, well, you can guess where that leads). To make matters worse, it doesn't just imply that ending, but rather shows it through until the bittersweet end, and kids -- not to mention some adults -- not prepared for a full-on recreation of that fateful last trip to the vet that every pet owner dreads might just be devastated.

The film also contains, not in any particular order, a surprising amount of sexual material for a PG-rated flick ("Mommy, why is that bed squeaking?" "Can we take our clothes off and jump in the pool too?" "What does 'pull the goalie' mean?"), a dead fetus in the womb (also presented in a straightforward presentation via a sonogram), a bloodcurdling scream followed by the discovery of a neighbor girl who's just been stabbed in the side by an attacker, and plenty of marital discord including that stemming from postpartum depression.

If that doesn't say bring the entire family, I don't know what does. Happy Holidays everyone!

**End Spoiler Alert**

I don't have any issue with the filmmaker including all of that and more, and was frankly surprised -- not having read the book -- by said material being included in it (especially as a respite from the recent preponderance of talking animal pics). What does bother me, however, is that director David Frankel and screenwriters Scott Frank and Dan Roos have crafted an otherwise humdrum and episodic movie that only hardcore dog lovers -- especially those who enjoy rambunctious canines -- will find entertaining.

Scene after scene shows the dog chewing up things and otherwise causing mayhem, when not being chased here, there and everywhere by his owners played by Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. A little of that more than goes a long way, but the filmmakers keep returning to such footage time and again, either thinking it's funny and/or cute (with each occurrence, those factors proportionally diminish) or needing it as filler for an otherwise rather bland story.

In short, the pic comes off as an amalgamation of "several years in the lives of John and Jenny Grogan," a highlight (and sometimes lowlight) reel of snippets of their existence first in sunny Florida, and then outside Philly. Career and family elements come and go, but it's so episodic and Wilson and Aniston's chemistry feels more artificial than naturally occurring that we don't really get to care about the characters. That's especially true regarding the kids that suddenly start popping out and growing up so quickly that we barely know them. As a result, their reaction to the concluding moments aren't as emotionally devastating -- other than by default regarding children and their pet -- as they might have otherwise been.

That said, and despite my growing boredom and restlessness in all of the moments leading up to it, the ending nevertheless packs an emotional wallop that likely won't leave a dry eye or lump-free throat in the house. It's just too bad I didn't feel as strongly about the characters and their times, both good and bad, before that. Bland and repetitive until the end, "Marley & Me" does contain elements of what's featured in the advertisements, but parents should be cautioned that just like real life, there's certainly more to it than that. The film rates as a 4.5 out of 10.




Reviewed December 11, 2008 / Posted December 25, 2008


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