At the movies: “Marley & Me”

Marley & Me
Comedy/drama, 2008

I’m not a stickler for reading the book before I see the movie adaptation. In fact, I’d been shying away from reading John Grogan’s Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog. I’m not prejudiced against reading big best-sellers, but it seems to me that big best-selling books about animals frequently have a high cuteness/sappiness factor, and I am prejudiced against that, to be honest. However, I’ve recently gotten rave personal recommendations about the book from a couple of unsentimental fellow dog fans (my stepdaughter and her mom), as well as from someone who has more patience with sentiment and far less patience with dogs than I do (my sister). Also, the trailer for the movie based on the book was hilarious, and in addition to an adorable yellow Labrador, it featured my favorite human version of a shaggy Golden Retriever, actor Owen Wilson – maybe it was time to overcome my prejudices.

Both my husband and I are unabashedly dog people, and we’ve each lived with a retriever at some point in our lives. We both genuinely enjoyed seeing Marley & Me. But as dog owners, and as people who have raised puppies, we both laughed at and were exasperated by John and Jenny Grogan’s early missteps with their yellow Lab puppy Marley. I tend to believe there aren’t very many truly BAD dogs, but there are dogs who aren’t raised right, and with large, high-energy breeds like Labs and Goldens, it’s essential for the masters to assert themselves early on. On the other hand, it’s hard to be very firm with a pup, because they’re just so darn cute. Marley is loyal, loving, and affectionate – by all measures except for his incorrigible behavior, he’s a pretty good dog, really; and there’s no denying that his “bad” moments are comedy gold (mostly because he’s not your dog).

Marley & Me isn’t just the story of an uncontrollable dog, though; it’s about the growth of a family. A snowstorm on their wedding day prompts the Grogans to seek a warmer climate; they both land jobs at South Florida newspapers, in accordance with Jenny’s step-by-step life plan, and then buy their first house. It’s not hard to foresee that a baby could be next on the list, but John’s not sure he’s ready, and at the suggestion of his single colleague, decides that getting Jenny a puppy for her birthday might be a good way to stall things. Somehow, though, after a couple of years of life with Marley, the Grogans feel ready for human children.

In retrospect, the Grogans understand that their family began not with Jenny’s first pregnancy, but with Marley’s arrival. But although the dog may have been their first “child,” one of the things I really liked about Marley & Me is that the dog isn’t anthropomorphized – he is always unquestionably and genuinely a DOG. The movie’s authentic portrayal of dog ownership has been praised by Entertainment Weekly and on, and I agree that they got that right.

I felt that the people in the movie were pretty genuine as well. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston make John and Jenny relatable and believable, particularly in the scenes where they struggle with and argue about the normal stresses of family life. The drama in this story arises from the ebb and flow of life, and that’s all I’ll say about the ending of the movie.

After we saw the movie, I finally bought a copy of the book. I’m curious to see what’s in there that didn’t get into the movie, and what was changed in the adaptation. However, I’m not expecting an excess of sentimentality, and I’m looking forward to seeing Marley again.

Have you read the book, and/or seen the movie? Tell me what you thought!

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  1. I want to read the book before I see the movie. I loved John Grogan’s latest book, The Longest Trip Home and just sobbed while I read it. Happy New Year!

  2. The commercial totally reminds me of our dog. I can see him doing almost everything. Well, except trying to jump out of the car. And you are right; you have to show who the master is but it is so hard. We have our moments. 🙂

  3. Kathy (Bermudaonion) – I read some excerpts from the new memoir, and I’ll probably keep my eye out for it once it’s in paperback. I hope you’re planning to read Marley & Me.

    Daisy – I’ve found that it works better for me when I look at the book and the movie as different stories with some common elements; then I have more patience with all the things that get changed :-).

    Mike – It’s not easy, but it is necessary. My stepdaughter says they did more to train Marley in the book, which was a bit reassuring. Y’all should see the movie, though.

    So, will you be writing Quincy & Me one of these days :-)?

  4. You have a point about the sappiness factor. I tend to shy away from books like this because I get too emotionally worked up over them when the animals die in the end. I am glad you enjoyed the movie so much, Florinda. I may still see it yet!

  5. Wendy (Literary Feline) – What? Are you saying the dog dies? 🙂

    I did tear up at the end of the movie, though, since it made me think about the fact my dog is getting older, too, and…well, letting her go will be HARD.

    If you’re a dog lover – and I think you are – I’d recommend seeing the movie :-).

  6. What a terrific review, I am glad you enjoyed the movie. I was very happy to see how realistically the movie portrayed family life. Wilson and Aniston were really good leads for this.

    I think you will enjoy the book also, it is extremely similar to the movie. I didn’t find it overly sappy except where it needed to be (as in the film).

  7. Joanne – I agree about the movie casting, but then again, Owen Wilson is a weakness of mine. I have a thing for shaggy-haired blonds :-).

    Glad you liked the movie too – and good to know that the tone of the book is similar. I’m looking forward to reading it before too long.

  8. Amy – I suspect it’s in the short-term TBR category for me, meaning within 6 months – mostly because I expect the people I see in “real life” who have read it to keep asking me about it until I do :-D!

  9. Coffeerama – And good for her, I say. (My ex and hers have a few things in common, I can’t help feeling some solidarity.) But never underestimate the drawing power of a yellow Lab 🙂

  10. Thanks for the review . . .as a dog owner (and retriever owner) this is definitely a movie I’m interested in seeing (even though I already know the ending)

  11. Jenn – I think you’ll enjoy it; a lot of it will definitely hit home. It did with me, anyway. I think there may be another retriever in our future…but we’ll definitely start the training a lot earlier :-).

  12. I read the book and cried like a baby, but I also laughed a lot too. There are so many lovable and maddening traits in both of our dogs that I saw in Marley-I think most dog owners could relate on some level. Our older dog is about 13 years old, and I know he won’t be around forever, and the older he gets, the more I think about it. 🙁 He is such a lovable goofball though-you can’t help but love them!

  13. Dreamybee – I know exactly what you mean. My dog is 11 or 12 (she was full-grown when I adopted her, and I’ve had her ten years, so that’s my best estimate of her age), and I think about the fact she won’t be around forever all too often these days, so the ending of the movie was tough on me. But parts were hilarious. I’m looking forward to reading the book before too long.