™ and © 2008 Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises. All rights reserved.
PG - some material may not be suitable for children
December 25, 2008
Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Eric Dane, Alan Arkin, Kathleen Turner
Screenplay by Scott Frank and Don Roos; based upon the book by John Grogan
Twentieth Century Fox Film and Regency Enterprises
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'Marley & Me': A Success from Book to Screen
By Laura J. Bagby
CBN.com Sr. Producer
Wouldn’t it be great if your series of newspaper columns about life with your neurotic, misbehaving dog ended up becoming a smash hit as a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and then some three years later gets made into a major motion picture? I would say that’s hitting the motherload. And for author John Grogan, it became a rather sweet reality.
Who knew that a true story about an ornery pup could have such wide appeal? Apparently, director David Frankel for starters, who became interested in the autobiographical book when his relatives began raving about it.
“I was encouraged by my 10-year-old nieces who said that this was their favorite book ever, the funniest book they ever read, and by my in-laws who are in their late 70s, who thought it was the most beautiful book they ever read about life,” he said.
And so the film became a reality with stars Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston in the lead roles of John and Jenny Grogan.
Newlyweds John and Jenny Grogan decide to buy the “clearance” dog from a litter of yellow Labs in order to test the waters of parenthood. Jenny isn’t quite ready to be a mother, so a dog seems the perfect substitute.
But the Grogans get more than they bargain for when they take Marley back to their South Florida starter home and soon discover their 100-pound purebred is a manic mess – miserably failing dog obedience training, stealing the Thanksgiving turkey, chewing off drywall, and destroying house furnishings.
Marley’s saving grace, however, is his faithful care through the triumphs and tragedies in the Grogan home, as the Grogans change jobs, build a family, and struggle with the issues of life. Together they come to understand that sticking it out has its own best rewards.
Spoiler alert! Please be aware that key moments of the movie will be discussed in this section, including the ending. If you don’t wish to know these details, please skip to the “My Take” section.
This is a refreshing role for Owen Wilson, who seems very comfortable in his skin in this film. Perhaps that is partly because Wilson is himself a writer, albeit a screenwriter rather than a newspaper man. Still, he comes across on the silver screen as completely believable.
But don’t think for a minute that he didn’t have some reservations in playing one of his contemporaries. “They [the real-life Grogans] came and visited early on and it was very strange,” Wilson said. “It was a little about I wonder what he is thinking about me playing him?”
Aniston noted that playing Jenny was no small task, either. She said one of her challenges was that “this book has such an audience and such a fan base and there are two people who are here actually on the planet that you want to honor their story.”
The movie does an excellent job of trying to stay true to the original book, including shooting scenes in correct locations and trying to match the overall tone of the literary work. Key scenes that some critics might consider too serious or even too adult for children to properly understand are purposefully left in the movie - for instance, Jenny’s miscarriage, John’s struggle whether or not to pull the plug on Marley’s failing health, and Marley’s eventual graveside service.
Some critics have voiced concerns that by leaving these difficult scenes in the film,
today’s children might experience the same shock that past generations experienced with animal movies like Bambi and Old Yellar, which depict tragic ends to the film’s loveable, furry characters.
But the directors and the actors support showcasing these tougher subjects.
Said Wilson, “The way that people loved that book so much, it wasn’t really a choice. You have to tell the story and kind of honor that story.”
“To me, seeing Marley to the end, that is what we all have to do in our lives,” said Frankel. “That is why we recognize ourselves so much. I don’t just see the end of the life for the dog; I imagine the end of the lives of everyone I love. That is part of what we all felt making the movie. And I think there is not a reason to skirt from the whole circle of life and telling the story.”
And then Frankel added later, “I think also the fact that Marley dies is a reminder of how fleeting our time is with the ones we love, and that is ultimately why I think the movie is a celebration of life.”
So parents, it is up to you to make that judgment call. If your young son or daughter is particularly tender to these kinds of issues, it would be best to at least prepare them in advance. And keep in mind what Frankel said, “I think that is the joy of family is discussing aspects of life, the good and the bad.”
Whether or not you agree with Frankel, you can at least appreciate the fact that this film not only promotes responsible and loving dog ownership as one of its themes within the movie, but as with Beverly Hills Chihuahua, there is a side campaign to prevent dog owners from abandoning puppies who can be hard to handle.
The real-life John Grogan teamed up with the American Kennel Club, which maintains the largest registry of purebred dogs in the world, in 60-, 30-, and 15-second television spots and a print PSA to promote responsible dog ownership and reinforce the kind of commitment needed to properly care for a dog.
Cute, comedic puppies, a great story about walking through life together through thick and thin that puts a positive spin on married life – it’s a win-win on screen.
My two cents: I loved it. Go see it, and then buy it on DVD.
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More articles by Laura Bagby on CBN.com
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