This may come as a shock to frequent readers considering how much I blog about my canine companions, but I have very little tolerance for “dog movies.” Generally, I find them completely annoying for their total failure at realistic portrayal of how dogs behave. Or, worse yet, their showcase of inept dog owners. When I first saw the television spots advertising John Grogan’s novel becoming a movie, I was never more surprised at myself at the realization that I desperately wanted to see this. Among the many books I’ve devoured over the years on all aspects of dogs — and pet ownership in general — Marley & Me is one of a small handful that I deeply enjoy due to the poignant story and unfiltered, heartfelt portrayal of life with a new and often boisterous dog.
While not exactly following the book, the film manages to maintain both of those things I enjoyed so deeply. And much like the book, it’s less a story about a dog than an engrossing memoir about a family with a crazy dog. I was very impressed with Aniston and Wilson and thought they had wonderful chemistry together. And while translated differently a lot of my favorite moments from the book made their way into the film.
The one thing that I was very taken with was the realistic portrayal of Marley’s life, especially towards the end. There are certainly sad films about dogs out there, but none that give a real picture of what an aging dog is like. Grogan’s description in the book is showcased quite vividly, albeit in a very small portion of the movie’s running time. And I have to disagree with the people who’ve found the ending scenes to be a way of merely forcing the viewer to shed some tears. They’re pretty much straight out of the book and I while I’ve never yet been present during the times dogs in my life have been put down I can easily imagine the sadness and pain is captured quite adequately and realistically.
I was disappointed by a few things, however. Specifically, I was a bit dismayed at the complete lack of showcasing how Marley was endearing. As I said before, the film is accurate to the book in not solely focusing on Marley, even though all the advertising I saw for it did seem to make the opposite seem true. But Grogan makes several references in his book to how loyal Marley was, how he was a comfort during the couple’s miscarriage, how gentle he was with children, and most importantly how his misdeeds were never maliciously intended. Marley was certainly not the epitome of well behaved, but he did have a joie de vivre with which he approached all aspects of his life. I was pleased to see Grogan’s messages retained in the film, that a dog should be considered part of the family — not a disposable item. But it’s hard to see the justification conveyed in the film.
Still, the one single thing that stands out for me is the underlying message of how much sharing a life with a dog can teach you about life. I’ve tried to put similar thoughts into words many times when explaining to others how it is to work with a guide dog or even have a longtime pet and it’s practically impossible to get a person foreign to the concept to fully understand. But if there’s one thing that all of the dogs I’ve had the privilege to share my life with have made abundantly clear, it is that life is worth living no matter your age and to take joy in the simple things it brings you.
In short, I found the film just as charming as the book. And I’ll readily admit that is a rare thing.