Based on Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Grogan’s 2005 book by the same title, Marley & Me makes an admirable attempt to capture the magic of Grogan’s life with an incorrigible labrador retriever, but falls well short of the mark.
This isn’t to say that Marley & Me fails as a movie, but instead falls into that category of films adapted from literature that don’t stack up. Whereas Grogan’s book had the luxury of being able to tell a protracted story and draw the reader into the head and heart of the author while enrapturing the reader with Marley’s antics, condensing a story that spanned years into a two hours and expecting it to work was clearly too much to ask. Looking beyond this shortcoming, however, and critiquing the movie on a standalone basis Marley & Me delivers a mixed bag with some elements working — particularly for those who are dog lovers or worse, like myself, who once owned a dog that was the spitting image of Marley.
It also suffers from an identity crisis, splintering its focus between Grogan’s private life, aspirations as a journalist, struggles with fatherhood and, of course, Marley, all of which were covered in the book without the constraints of being compressed into a sort of cliff-notes version, as happens here. Director Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) further compounds the matter by inserting an insufferably long passage in which entire chapters of the book are sped through at a blistering rate for an overly prolonged stretch making for one of cinema’s most aggravatingly overdrawn sequences.
Both Wilson and Aniston do an admirable job in their respective roles and are the least of the movie’s problems, although it could be argued that choosing unknowns for the parts would have allowed the audience to focus more on the story (such as it is) and Marley. If you’re a dog lover, particularly one with an affinity towards Labs or other large rambunctious breeds, Marley & Me will be like sitting down to two hours with a good and loyal friend. For those that haven’t read the book, be forewarned. The story takes you through Marley’s life from awkward puppy to final moments, and will leave you misty-eyed, which, I suppose, is a good thing because the final pages of Grogan’s book left me a complete weeping mess.