Marley & Me Review

Audiences will lap up stories of man’s best friend with no questions asked. How else can we explain the Beverly Hills’ Chihuahua trilogy? Yuppy little rats like that have no place on the silver screen. A proper dog, though, that’s what we can accept. We have seen them play basketball, go to space, embody Dennis Quaid and run a hotel, but have we ever seen them as lovable companions to Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston? No, but thanks to Marley & Me, we can see that stale and generic idea spring to life. These are not shiny, happy people, but the opening credits (and R.E.M.) would like you to think so.  

Marley & Me collates its comedy and throws it at the screen. If that doesn’t work for you, then you’re mandatory, prodded tears from seeing a dog grow old will suffice for filmmaker David Frankel. Wilson and Anniston have that redeemable quality to themselves, but here they almost ditch that entirely, embodying the type of people who believe owning a dog and raising that is as difficult as, say, raising a child or operating an aircraft. No, instead, Marley & Me presents itself as a barely passable, light-hearted drama with a heavy-hitting finale that seems to reach out to its audience and reassure them. That is the sole emotive draw, and it feels thoroughly sickening to think that the only way Frankel and his cast could get people in seats is through the universal appreciation people have for pets.  

It’s okay to feel this way about the fictional dog. Of course, in hindsight, that dog is actually, probably, dead, so the tears you feel for the fictional death of Owen Wilson’s dog are very much the real deal. It is a shame this family life lesson slog is not. You will learn nothing, feel little, and beyond that be bored to tears, rather than have them hoisted from you by a man willing to kill off the best character in his film for that sweet, sudden emotional embrace. That is the price we pay, though, is it not? To really feel for the family within Marley & Me, we should surely be blown away by their performances. Amicable they may be, they leave much to be desired. There is an inherent disconnect between the real innovation on display and what Frankel wishes to portray.  

Soppy the film may be, there are shining moments throughout. Almost all of them feature Marley. He is the world’s worst dog, apparently. Who cares? We are here to observe the lives of a moderately happy, middle-classed couple whose lives are changed by a dog they bought. Marley & Me is your usually contrite, emotionally manipulative dreck that hopes to rely on the charms of its established leading performers doing nothing all that special, just they have a dog with them as well. They go through the motions and emotions all newlyweds do, and in the process find healing and help with the eponymous dog. Their idyllic life is of no interest to audiences. Shiny Happy People plays over the opening credits as we pan away from their snow-clad wedding. They are living the high life. They don’t need a dog, just a bottle of port and some macadamias. They’d be made for the night.  

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