Marley & Me

Posted on March 30, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Life is messy. And in this movie, that very important lesson is embodied by Marley, affectionately dubbed “the worst dog in the world” by his loving family. Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston) and John (Owen Wilson) Grogan are newlywed newspaper writers who have just moved to Florida. John’s friend Sebastian (Eric Dane of “Gray’s Anatomy”) tells him he can distract Jennifer from her desire to have a child by getting her a puppy. So he surprises her with a Labrador they call Marley after the reggae singer. Marley grows up to be big, omnivorous, and completely out of control, an obedience school reject, a destroyer of property, and an utterly devoted and utterly beloved member of the family. Yes, the movie has cute puppies and cute people, but it is not a soft-focus valentine that could be a commercial for dog chow. I like the way Marley is the most comic of the problems facing the Grogans as they struggle to adjust to the challenges that life brings to their plans and their marriage. John sees his friend Sebastian living his alternate life as a globe-trotting journalist with the glamor assignments and a new girlfriend every week (often with Marley acting as a chick lure). Jennifer sees John living her alternate life as she stays home with the children. They have to deal with other kinds of losses, a stillborn child, changes at work. Marley leads John to finding his voice as a columnist, a temporary sideline that becomes his truest calling.I never quite believed Wilson or Aniston as suburban parents but then I never quite believed their homes as being within the budget of a newspaper columnist. Wilson needs to develop more range of facial expression and Aniston needs to stop acting with her hair. But director David Frankel nicely evokes domestic chaos and the dog is irresistible.SPOILER ALERT: Parents should know that the movie ends very sadly when the dog dies and is buried. We see him lovingly put to sleep by the vet. The film also has some potty humor and mild sexual references and situations including implied nudity and some discussion of making babies as well as some discussion of “fixing” the dog and the body parts that are “fixed.” There is a very sad pregnancy loss and some postpartum depression. Characters drink and use some mild language.Family discussion: Families should talk about some of the pets that have meant the most to them. Why did the family love Marley so much?If you like this, try: “My Dog Skip” and “Because of Winn-Dixie”

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15 Replies to “Marley & Me”

  1. How could anyone that is suppose to be a mom consider the language mild. There was very bad language in this movie. It was not appropriate for a PG movie at all.

  2. Perhaps the language would be reasonably mild for Nell’s recommended audience — middle school students? We have younger kids and have chosen to take a pass, based on this and other reviews.
    The language and sexual references are unfortunate, IMHO, since the film is marketed as a “family movie.” A family movie should be good for kids of all ages.

  3. Thanks, David and Audrey. Sadly, the MPAA’s idea of what constitutes “mild” language for a PG has gone downhill. They won’t admit it, but I think they are very influenced by the language used on broadcast television, which has also deteriorated badly. Generally, anything that is used on prime time television is considered appropriate for a PG.

  4. I took 2 middle schools kids to this movie, and they thought it should have been PG-13. We knew the ending, but still expected it to be more of a family movie. There were some cute scenes, but it was really a movie for adults. This is a case where the book was definitely better than the movie.

  5. Thanks so much, Jerrie. I agree that this is a movie about the challenges of adult life and relationships and not of much interest for kids. Thanks for a very helpful comment.

  6. This movie is totally not for kids!!!!! I was extremely upset when I took my 9-yr old to see it. The movie emphasizes ‘baby sex’ and discusses it way too openly for a PG movie. It is not a family movie.

  7. Thanks so much, TL. I agree with you that this is not a movie for kids and I am sorry that the way it was marketed suggested otherwise. As you can see, in my review I suggested it for middle schoolers and older and made it clear that there was material that was inappropriate for children.

  8. Perhaps a PG-13 rating was warranted here due to some somber themes … but it goes back to the “Bambi” debate. Should children be shielded from sad themes?
    Movie Mom is better equipped to deal with that one, esp. since my son is all of three months of age!
    I will say some critics were too tough on this one, while others bemoanded the fact that it showed a mostly dysfunction-free family.

  9. Thanks so much for a very insightful comment. My concern was less about the rating than about the way the film was marketed. Its ads made it look like a cute puppy movie. I just wanted parents to know that the movie was not of much interest to kids — dealing with issues like loss and depression and marital conflict. I don’t think children need to be shielded from sad themes — stories like “Old Yeller” and “The Yearling” have been around for a long time. But I do think that like any other themes in movies for kids, they should be presented in an accessible context. All best to you and your baby!

  10. My girls (7 & 10) went to see this over the holiday with their grandparents. At the time, my mother-in-law said it was a bit “Hmmm”. (which i didn’t understand then). I was finally able to watch it this weekend. I loved the movie. However, I completely agree that it should have had a PG-13 rating. I can’t believe my poor family had to explain some of these issues to my kids.

  11. Thanks, Chris. Even more than the inconsistency of the rating system, I am upset by the way that movies like this one are advertised to create a real misunderstanding of the movie’s content. I appreciate your comment.

  12. The other thing wrong with this movie is its depiction of irresponsible pet ownership and acceptable dog behavior. Clearly this movie is an embellishment of the truth, but the cinematic Marley is not a bad dog, just badly raised/managed. It makes a funny story, but it’s a shame that some people will leave with the impression that it’s perfectly okay to leave a puppy in a cardboard box in the garage (as opposed to using a crate), to have a puppy off-leash in a public area, to let completely strangers handle that puppy, and to allow that puppy to grow into an 85-lb. out-of-control leash-pulling, chewing beast. Letting a dog hang out a window? Tying a big dog to a small table? Taking that dog to a baseball stadium? Oh brother. There are many moments like this in the movie. The trouble is, this movie is based on a true story. Nobody expects the craziness in “Hotel for Dogs” to be realistic pet-owning advice, but I bet the Marley story will be taken as more realistic (but it shouldn’t), which is sad. The few sane voices in the movie who are saying what needs to be said (the dog trainer, the guy owner at the ‘dog beach’) are drawn as humorous caricatures instead of being given a realistic voice with dialogue and opinions that could have been represented as valid and important. A real lost opportunity to educate America about pet ownership and send a strong humane message. The end is rather disingenuous too, since Marley died of something that could have been fixed/prevented with surgery. I’m not suggesting that it was Grogan’s responsibility to spend thousands of dollars on his dog so it wouldn’t die, but it would have been more honest for his book and movie to admit that there were expensive options to save his life and they opted not to take them. Instead, he lets everyone think that this just happened and there was nothing they could do about it.

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