The photograph on the cover of "Marley and Me" shows a cute little puppy. Unfortunately, the David Frankel directed film doesn't spend a lot of time with Marley as a puppy and the film quickly matures with the rapidly growing dog and instead of being cute as represented by the box art, "Marley and Me" becomes a harsh lesson on life. It is about children, drastic life changes, death and remorse. There is a little cuteness contained within the film, but "Marley and Me" is hardly the feel-good hit of 2008. After watching the film I found myself remembering pets, family and friends that I had lost and wondering what the hell I have accomplished so far in my life with the age of forty less than a handful of years away. I hate it when a film plays with my emotions.
"Marley and Me" stars Owen Wilson as Josh Grogan in the autobiographical memoir by Grogan. Jennifer Aniston portrays his wife Jenny Grogan and Eric Dane costars as his friend Sebastian with Alan Arkin wonderfully taking on the role of newspaper editor Arnie Klein. The movie begins with Jenny and John moving to Florida where each is hired by separate newspapers. Jenny finds quick prominence for her paper and has her work appear on the front page, while John is asked to write the obituaries. John's feelings of inferiority to his wife are compounded when it appears that Jenny would like to start a family and under the guidance of his friend Sebastian, John adopts Jenny a puppy for her birthday. While the birthday is a month away, they settle on the ‘Discount Puppy' which turns out to be Marley.
From very early on the dog shows a penchant for chewing and running off. Jenny thinks the behavior is funny at first, but it doesn't take long before they realize that they must take the grown up Marley to obedience school. There Ms. Kornblut (Kathleen Turner) ridicules John, but learns that Marley is a leg humper and refuses to train the dog as leg humping spreads to other dogs quickly. The misadventures of Marley soon prove to be a goldmine for John as he is asked by his boss to write two columns a week instead of reporting on unimportant stories. The tales of Marley are enjoyed by the newspapers readers and John's columns become a hit. John's easy demeanor and ability to make light of situations establish him with the community.
The film quickly moves away from the mischievous pooch and becomes a study on the hardships of raising a family. Jenny has a miscarriage and this causes suffering for the young couple. However, Jenny soon becomes pregnant again and welcomes Patrick to the world. It isn't long before pregnancy once again strikes the Grogan family and Jenny decides to quit her job to raise her two children when Connor is born. Arnie doubles John's salary to agree to writing a daily column, but John soon becomes tired of writing fun stories and wants to do more serious work. After a third child, daughter Colleen is born, the stresses of the Grogan household become more and more and John accepts a job in Philadelphia. There they being a new life, but Marley is winding down his own long life.
"Marley and Me" isn't a bad film, but it was marketed as more of a comedy and not as the soul twisting tearjerker that it pines to become before the film ends. It becomes lighthearted enough as two young people start a new life with a chew happy puppy who even eats drywall, but after the first act the tone of the film changes dramatically. The second act finds John and Jenny constantly bickering in a testament that no relationship runs smoothly and bumpy roads are always going to be travelled upon. This second act is quite ugly at times and I must give Jennifer Aniston a little credit for being the perfect bitch. The third act is a sad experience and will have many remembering back to when their first dog died or when an old friend passed on. The film slows down the pace to make Marley's passing a sorrowful experience and this final act is not a pleasing experience.
My problem with the film is not in the writing, acting or execution of "Marley and Me," but with the expectations I had going into the film. Wilson and Aniston are typically cast in romantic comedies and the marketing certainly pointed in the direction that this would be familiar ground. I wasn't prepared for a movie with a first act of fun, a second act of anger and a third act of death. I knew the dog died, but I was expecting the film to be far more playful in trying to engage my heart strings to love the animal before it passed. Instead, large portions of the film have nothing to do with Marley and more with the struggles between Jenny and John. I felt betrayed and wasn't ready to sit down and hear the gospel of growing old and dying.
After watching the film I had to ask myself of what I have accomplished so far in my life. I don't have a loving and troublesome dog to watch grow old. There are no three kids or beautiful house in my next few years. Sure, I don't want three kids, but the beautiful home would be nice. I can't even tell you for sure if I'm going to have this amazing young lady in my life in four months let alone four years. Marley is a faithful friend and family member and he is a representation of long and faithful relationships. The dog is a metaphor and the film goes out of its way to let you know this. While Marley brings lots of headaches to John, the character does not have a lot of human friends, but Marley is the most faithful friend he could ask for. In the end he loses Marley, but he is left with a beautiful wife and three loving kids. This entire movie set up a depressing lesson on life and left me feeling as if I have failed somewhere along the line.
I wanted to be entertained. I didn't want my feelings to be toyed with by a film that cared more towards forcing me into feeling a certain way than it did entertaining me. I imagine that John Grogan's book is a phenomenal read and I will admit that the story is moving, but I am going to hold my grudge against the marketing campaign of this film for quite a while. It succeeded into making me feel like crap and I didn't appreciate that. Wasn't expecting it. Movies like this need warning labels. But I digress. There is an audience for "Marley and Me" and I can't help but feeling those that love Lifetime or the Hallmark Classics are going to feel this is one of the greatest films in years. Have at it. I won't be sitting down to watch this movie anytime soon. Instead I'll just wait for Owen Wilson to finally film that biography on Rod Stewart. And if that happens, I better get a producers credit.
This film opened up on Christmas Day and is hardly four months old. As you would expect, the 2.35:1 widescreen film is pristine and looks quite good on Blu-ray. A dog beach is a pivotal scene in the film and for those wanting some nice bikini shots, they are found throughout the film's first two acts. The sand looks nice too. I loved a sequence in the snow and felt that perfectly highlighted the coloring and detail of the picture once the colorfully clad children were allowed to play. The entire film is finely detailed and colors are perfectly saturated. Black levels are clean as a few scenes take place in low lighting. Thunderstorms upset poor Marley. No detail is lost in the shadows. There is a digital feel to "Marley and Me" and while some may not feel it looks ‘film-like,' I found it to be quite pleasing. The transfer used was pristine and while I have seen a few sharper looking movies, this is well above average.
There wasn't nearly as much dog barking as I had expected to hear with "Marley and Me." In fact, this dramatic comedy features a fairly lackluster English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio sound mix that has a few scenes with a lot of sound, but is generally reserved. It seems DTS keeps adding words into the name of that sound format, but the next generation sound does provide a very clean listening experience to the film, but the chewing, carnage and screen tearing that was advertised in the trailers doesn't equate to a lot of aggressive sound design. I'm a little bothered by the lounge lizard rendition of a Nirvana song, but the music is the strongest part of the film's sound mix. Dialogue is clean and intelligible, but I really wanted to hear a lot of dog barking. Spanish, French and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mixes are included as well as subtitles in a number of languages.
"Marley and Me" is being sold on Blu-ray as a ‘3-Disc Bad Dog Edition.' That sounds quite impressive and I'm sure a number of those who fondly remember Criterion LaserDiscs and DVDs know that three discs must mean a lot of supplemental materials. However, that balloon is quickly deflated upon the realization that the second disc as a Bonus Disc of Marley and Me Feature Film on DVD. That's right, "Marley and Me" contains limited featured version of the film on DVD that contained Deleted Scenes, the Gag Reel and Trailers. HD-DVD used to do this by gluing the DVD to the reverse side. The news doesn't get much better for this multi-disc set when the realization that the third disc is a Digital Copy of Marley and Me for Portable Media Players. Had the film not angered me by trying to force my emotions I would perhaps install this on my iPhone or Zune, but without many cute puppy scenes I won't be using this disc either anytime soon.
The Blu-ray disc itself contains a few supplemental materials, but does not push the technology provided. The disc boots up with some promotional clips and touts digital copy. You have to manually skip each of them. The 19 Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary (25:58) is the most extensive and entertaining supplement. Some of these are simply extended scenes, but there is a lot of material that was left on the cutting room floor and if you enjoy the film you will enjoy this half hour of extra footage that even manages to discuss Feng Shui. Then character of Lisa (Haley Bennett) is given more screen time. There are some good Marley carnage moments in here as well and the optional commentary digs nicely into why these scenes were omitted or shortened. The Gag Reel (5:40) contains some good moments with the actors and the dogs, although it was tamer than I expected. The Dog Training Trivia Track (17:12) is a Picture-in-Picture based Profile 1.1 feature that includes video snippets in a PiP window. These are training trips and very sparse throughout the film. I'd recommend just watching them through the extras menu.
A number of featurettes are thrown in as well to chew on. Finding Marley (7:48) is about working with the trainers on the film and the twenty two dogs that were used to play Marley. If you want to know about the dogs in the film, this is a good eight minutes. Breaking the Golden Rule (8:02) talked about the trials and tribulations of working with dogs and how they are often uncontrollable. This was a nice continuation of the first featurette that also talked about how this is more than a dog movie. On Set with Marley: Dog of all Trades (2:36) is a slightly humorous segment with a fake interview with Marley complete with dog speak translation. The Animal Adoption featurette (5:19) talks about adopting dogs and how people can find their own ‘Marley' from rescue shelters and not breeders. When Not to Pee (2:17) talks quickly about how brilliantly the dogs were trained and shows one moment when Clyde the dog behaves.
I wanted to watch a comedy that did end with a sad moment, but I was not expecting a film that was going to preach to me the ups and downs of life and harp on how difficult things can be. The trailer promised light-hearted fun with the worst dog in the world, but left me wondering what I've accomplished with the age of 40 just a few years away. The film itself told of a very engaging story that had its cute moments, but there was some definite ugliness in this film. Sometimes marketing goes wrong and the ads for this film had me believing this was going to be a romantic comedy. I feel betrayed. The Blu-ray release features some decent bonus materials and has a very clean looking and sounding transfer that won't be used for reference purposes, but won't disappoint those looking forward to having their heart strings tugged upon. The movie wasn't bad, but it wasn't what I was expecting and it isn't something I'd necessarily want to watch again.