Based upon the book by John Grogan, Marley & Me doesn't offer any new surprises in what's expected of from a story about Man's best friend, and having been just that to John Grogan (played by Owen Wilson) and his family, the story's very much a personal tale of the Grogans', though John's especially, relationship with their pet dog who had been a major part of their married and family life from the onset.
While the trailer may have made this out to be a comedy through and through, this film's quite a typical dog-drama, where you have the antics of how one dog could turn one's life topsy-turvy especially when it's not properly trained. Picked out from a clearance sale by John and wife Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston), they soon find out that Marley's in contention in being the world's worst dog, and his behaviour just reinforces that – peeing indiscriminately, chewing everything, drinking from the toilet bowl, running everywhere and knocking into things. How the couple could endure and let it get away with his indiscipline, tells you how much they love that labrador named after Bob Marley.
But the film's more about family, or the creation of one. It actually follows the progression of how a newly married couple adapt to their new life, with some real world concerns like the next paycheck, and the issue with raising kids. Some things in life can be planned for while others come without warning, and the dog just ushered in a new phase of their lives with mutual responsibility over something else. Not to mention of course that it provides ample fuel for John's popular and growing column, despite his personal ambition in being a reporter rather than a columnist, like his buddy who gets to lead the life he could only dream of, in being where the action is.
It's about priorities in life, where we have different goals and objectives that we want to achieve, which could run contrary to your partner's. It's about how we give certain issues precedence, and others having to take the back seat. It's about the sacrifices that we have to make from time to time, and therefore missing out on opportunities. It's about seizing opportunities that may seem like road-blocks only because they aren't very clear at the present time until manifestation at a later date. I was quite surprised indeed that these everyday life issues get succinctly masked from within the narrative of a “dog-movie”.
Running almost two hours long, the narrative does seem to fast forward itself in the second half because I thought it felt its first hour build up was taking a tad too long. Like real life when babies and kids come into your world, the focus you have on your individual pursuits get diminished. And in a mirror situation, the film becomes faced with an expanded cast of characters to deal with in the second half, resulting in a mixed balance of focus somewhat. Alan Arkin's role was totally hilarious as the editor of the Sun-Sentinel, and some of the more uplifting moments were where he graced the screen and lit it up with his character's wry humour. Owen is being plain ol' Owen, while Aniston successfully portrayed a (glamourous) housewife whose worries are all over the place.
I had initially thought that Marley & Me had tried to emulate some success formulas from Japanese shows of similar canine nature. Fortunately it did have its own story to tell, thanks to the blueprint spelt out in the real John Grogan book (which got worked into the story here as well). It's a fairly good family drama that I felt could be stronger if it had placed equal emphasis in its second half as it did in the first.