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 NPR.com, 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!