Rating: Rated PG (mild coarse language, sexual references and themes)
People who would use the word “cute” to describe a dog that trashes its surroundings, rips pillows asunder, chews clothing and soft toys, smashes furniture, drinks from the lavatory, pees on the carpet and takes no notice of its owners’ commands will have little trouble loving ‘Marley & Me’.
“There is nothing like the joy of raising your first dog,” is the opening voice-over that pretty well sets the tone for a movie that celebrates “the world’s worst dog”, a Labrador named in honour of the reggae singer Bob Marley (he happened to be on the car radio as John Grogan drove the new family pet home for the first time).
Grogan, a minor journalist on the ‘South Florida Sun-Sentinel, buys the pooch in the hope it will distract his wife Jenny from thoughts of starting a family. Marley takes over the house and is virtually uncontrollable, giving Grogan a wealth of material for a humorous column in the paper that makes his name as a writer. (Grogan’s subsequent novel, developed out of these newspaper columns, is the source material for the screenplay by Scott Frank and Don Roos.)
David Frankel, who had a big hit with The Devil Wears Prada, directs this sentimental dog tale with style and aplomb, although he descends to shameless tugs on the heartstrings at the end when 13-year-old Marley is old and sick. He gets a halfway decent performance out of the usually irritating Owen Wilson as Grogan, and he encourages Jennifer Aniston to shine as the very likeable Jenny. Alan Arkin steals every scene as Grogan’s laconic editor, and Kathleen Turner has a brief but amusing cameo as a dog obedience trainer who attempts to bring Marley to heel. Very effective, too, are the various canines that portray Marley at different stages of his life.
If it were simply a saccharine saga of a cherished mutt (and haven’t there been a few of them down the years!), Marley & Me would be pretty forgettable. But to give full credit to Frankel and the writers, the middle part of the film in which the Grogans wrestle with the problems of raising a young family (as well as the dog) is very well done. Jenny’s stressed outbursts when the pressure gets too much for her are written and acted with great conviction.
And gently amusing is a scene in a bed and breakfast in Ireland where John and Jenny on holiday are intimidated by a “porcelain pontiff” and bedroom walls dripping with religious art.
Fox Out January 1
Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.