Marley & Me - Movie Review

Read the Book or Watch the Movie?
          Marley & Me, the book, is a great investment in time and money. Marley & Me, the movie, is a different animal altogether.

          Marley & Me is the true account of a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist’s life and love with Marley, the world’s worst dog. Columnist and author John Grogan rightly deserves accolades for his #1 New York Times best-selling book. Millions have flocked to the book for a poignant emotional ride and some of the funniest moments ever written. What then, happened in Hollywood?

Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston Needed More True Marley

          The first glaring jolt in the movie comes when John Grogan, played with gentle charisma by Owen Wilson, states that he has never had a dog. The very first line of the book, however, tells of a young ten-year-old John Grogan getting his first dog, Shaun. Such literary license, which the movie is riddled with, can often leave a bad taste in your mouth.

          In Grogan’s book, Marley is bigger than life, and his influence in the lives of Grogan and his wife, played by Jennifer Aniston, is palpable. Heart twinges and laughing out loud are frequent occurrences when reading the book. Yet the movie, despite its funny promotional trailers, is sprinkled with only a few hearty laughs. Worse, it relegates Marley to not much more than an undercurrent in the lives of Grogan and his wife. There are so many scenes without the dog that it is hard to truly grasp the depth of the relationship between Marley and his humans. Not so in the book.

          In the book, many outrageously funny tales of Marley’s antics were told in tickling detail, but in the movie those same scenes were often reduced to a fleeting mention or bundled into a single convoluted event. Others were simply disregarded entirely to make room for fleshed-out human characters like Grogan’s boss, played perfectly by Alan Arkin, and Grogan’s hot shot bachelor-on-the-prowl reporter friend, Sebastian, played by Eric Dane. Both actors did their jobs well, but their expanded roles came at the expense of the one star that should have been in every scene in all his animated slobbering glory — the lovable doofus, Marley.

Kathleen Turner - A Missed Opportunity

          One supporting character essential to Marley’s story was the dog obedience school instructor played by Kathleen Turner. Plenty of material existed for some sidesplitting scenes at obedience school, but like so many of Marley’s memorable moments, the situation was condensed. The result? The viewer not only lost out on timeless Marley behavior but also on potentially hilarious fodder from the always-engaging Ms. Turner.

John Grogan Wrote It Better

          And for all that was omitted or altered, one event stretched on for what seemed to be an eternity — Marley’s death. The heart wrenching sorrow of Marley’s last days offered the human actors plenty of opportunities to showcase their acting chops, but those final, very long, scenes so overshadowed the rest of the movie that the sadness may be all that you remember as you exit the theater. That’s no tribute to the fun-at-any-cost Marley. And it’s no tribute to John Grogan whose warm and witty book has far more laughs than tears.

          To know the true Marley, to get inside his hard-as-a-rock head and his big-lug heart, to find entertainment in his every misbegotten adventure, read the book. If you only see the movie you will surely miss out on the remarkably fascinating and funny soul that was Marley, the world’s worst dog.

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Life and Living
                                       with Tricia Spencer