Ostensibly, Marley & Me is about the world's worst dog. In reality, it's about family and love.
John (Owen Wilson) and Jen (Jennifer Aniston) Grogan are newlyweds. Jen has their life together all planned: moved somewhere warm, get jobs, buy a house. When a houseplant dies, Jen complains, "How am I supposed to take care of a kid when I can't take care of a stupid plant?", John realizes what Jen's next "step" is. He discusses this with his bachelor friend and colleague, Sebastian, who recommends getting a puppy. So John takes Jen off to a breeder where they get a "Clearance Sale" puppy--Marley.
Marley turns out to have a few quirks. He eats anything and everything. He's afraid of thunderstorms. He has nearly unlimited energy and an unconquerable will. He is untrainable. And he loves John and Jen unconditionally.
And they love Marley, despite all the chaos he brings to their lives.
John is offered a chance to write a twice weekly column. Initially, he's reluctant to accept it because he sees himself as a reporter. But the offer includes a raise, so he takes the assignment. His first column is about Marley. His editor (Alan Arkin) reads it and, perfectly deadpan, says, "This is hilarious. I'm laughing my ass off here."
Eventually, John and Jen decide to have a baby. Jen announces she's pregnant at the same time John's colleague, Sebastian, is offered a chance to go to the Middle East--and he wants to bring John along. John has to make a real choice here: career versus family.
And then Jen has a miscarriage.
John doesn't know what to do. But Marley does.
The Grogans do have children eventually and Jen has choices to make as well. Although Marley doesn't treat the children as chew toys, he's still pretty incorrigible and Jen becomes overwhelmed with it all. John is feeling the stress as well: he's the sole breadwinner and his column is now running five days a week. A decision--a serious one--has to be made about Marley and his place in the family. John and Jen also have to make a decision about their future as well.
Because the movie is based on the real-life experiences of the actual John Grogan, many of the scenes hit home for Hubs and me. The conversations John and Jen had were conversations that we've had, albeit with wittier lines. Their relationship with their kids, as well as the relationship of the kids with Marley, rang true. Despite the comedy, this movie does not sugar-coat the sacrifices each partner makes so that marriage and family life works.
The ending is predictable but not overly sentimental. The parents acted like adults, not hiding the facts of life from their children but helping them cope with the inevitable.
This movie is rated PG but I wouldn't bring young children (although there were some in the audience), mostly because the emotional undertones might be overwhelming. There is some swearing, a couple of implied sex scenes between John and Jen (hey--they're married, right?), one implied nude scene (again, it's John and Jen in the privacy of their own backyard). DD#2 (who is 15) enjoyed the movie, although she didn't always laugh at the same parts Hubs and I did. On the way home we talked about the dogs in our family, especially our current dog who broke through a closed window as a puppy--twice--and was notorious for chewing stuffed toys and underwear. (Fortunately, old age has mellowed her. She is currently sleeping on the couch next to me.)
The casting, by the way, is superb. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston play off each other well. They look like real people who have lived real lives. They're sweet and goofy and serious when they should be. Alan Arkin plays John's unsentimental editor who pushes him to grow into adulthood. Kathleen Turner has a great cameo as the obedience school trainer. Eric Dane is Sebastian, the eternal bachelor and the life John Grogan could have had. Sebastian could be a sleaze, but he's not. The actors who play the Grogan kids are not precocious or overly adorable.
Kudos also to the animal trainers and handlers as well as the dogs who played Marley at different ages. Having a dog misbehave on cue is no small feat!
On the March Hare scale: 5 out of 5 Golden Tickets. An especially good "date night" movie for us old married couples who have raised a dog and a kid or two.
crossposted at The Mad Tea Party