Thursday, January 22, 2009

Marley & Me

I've been wanting to see Marley & Me ever since it was released at Christmas. We usually attend weekend matinees, but the last several weeks, we've either had family commitments out of town, or I've had to work. After I had to put in 8 hours last Sunday to back out a database runtime client upgrade that didn't work, instead of the one I was expecting to, I asked Lisa to go to an evening show this week. You can't count on a movie to still be showing in a first run theater much longer than a month these days.

So, what about another family comedy featuring a dumb mutt? Well, if that's what you're expecting of this movie, I'm sorry to disappoint you. Sure, you've got Owen Wilson playing another sad sack looking guy -- as if he could play anything else, with his face. As John Grogan, he's a believable reporter turned columnist, and he's got the inspiration of "the worst dog in the world" in yellow lab Marley.

Marley was a present to his wife Jenny, the runt of his litter, the one that the dog breeder will let go to 2/3 the price of his brothers and sisters. That leads Jenny, who is gorgeously played by Jennifer Anniston, to dub him "Clearance Puppy". The present was suggested by John's friend and professional colleague Sebastian, as a way to shut down her biological clock for a few years, to distract her from wanting a child. And it works, long enough for John to reach the point he's ready to start a family.

In the meantime, Marley is a force of nature. A destructive force. And he remains so through the Grogan family changes: kids, old jobs ended, new homes, new jobs begun. Whatever happens, Marley is a constant.

Until old age catches up to him. Until the vet can't make him better anymore. Until John can tell this well-loved mutt that he is indeed "the greatest dog in the world", and say good bye.

This movie deals with laughter, with high and low points in a marriage, with career triumphs, with regrets that come with choices that cut off other options in life, with bringing new life into the world, with postpartum depression, with loving well and deeply, and with loss. Marley's passing is not quite Old Yeller tragic, but it is heart-rending.

We are left with the final scene of the Grogan family burying Marley in their front yard, with the final words in voiceover from one of the John Grogan's columns: A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his.

Marley & Me touches genuine emotions, genuine family issues. It's a movie with a soul.

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