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.
EXTRAS **** Quite a decent package: there's a featurette called Finding Marley, which takes a look at the process of finding and training the 20 plus dogs used in the film; 18 deleted scenes; a gag reel; a picture-in-picture Dog Training Trivia Track which can be run during the film; a featureette called Breaking the Golden Rule, in which cast and crew discuss breaking that rule (to never work with children or animals) and the fun they had working on the film; a featurette called On Set with Marley: Dog of All Trades; a featurette called When Not to Pee (how they got the dogs to take a leak on cue); and a featurette called Animal Adoption – a discussion about the benefits of adopting a dog from an animal shelter.