Little Kids and Big Subjects
by Phil Boatwright

Marley & Me is being advertised with a poster containing nothing but a cute puppy.  And the trailer gives the impression that the film is another slapstick comedy aimed at family. Furthermore, we’re led to believe, because of all the previous movies about frustrated folks and unruly dogs, that this will be merely holiday season escapism.  And it is - mostly.  But it’s far more.

Based on the true wedded life of writer John Grogan, a columnist for Florida’s Sun Sentinel, the author buys a pet to placate his wife’s growing desire to have children.  Wrongly motivated, John is quickly punished for his selfish deed by unwisely choosing the most unmanageable dog ever born, a pup that’s part Marmaduke, part Dennis the Menace.  Soon, Marley (named after reggae singer Bob Marley) is drawing the couple together as they attempt to regain a life unhinged by this loving but uncontrollable dog.  But, as I say, it’s about more than a klutzy canine comedy.  Soon, it’s justly perceived as a parable about the ingredients that make up a successful marriage – and life.

Director David Drankel said at a recent press junket, “It’s a portrait of a happy marriage. A marriage that works.  Yes, there are ups and downs, but it’s about the choices you make and appreciating the joys of family.  Everyone has choices to make in life and it’s how we handle the consequences of those choices that shape and change who we are.”

As in reality, the film contains defining character moments that stem from traumatic incidents.  Here we suffer along with the characters through arguments, a miscarriage, money worries and the eventual passing of a beloved pet.  Your kids ready for that?

Confronted by the marketing plan (that cute puppy on the poster), Mr. Drankel defended the film’s real life issues.  “I was encouraged to make the movie by my ten-year-old nieces, who said it was the funniest book they ever read.  And by in-laws who said it was the most beautiful book they ever read.  For me, it is a movie for all ages.  I think there is merit in the marketing plan because it will get families to go.  I’m taking my kids next week and they’re seven.  I welcome their questions.  That’s the joy of family, discussing the aspects of life.”

“I think sometimes as an adult we underestimate or forget kids’ abilities to deal with stuff,” actor Owen Wilson interjected.  “Or how much they soak up."

Old Yeller and Bambi were then referred to, making the point that children can handle these tragedies so long as parents are there to reassure.  Their arguments have merit.  For as you recall, while Old Yeller and Bambi had scenes that disturbed us as children, those very moments gave the productions substance.  They are the reasons we remember those movies.

Like My Dog Skip, this film reminds us of what a great gift man’s best friend really is. Tenaciously loyal, unfailingly forgiving, and unquestioningly loving, our four-legged companions teach their custodians how to relate to fellow beings while giving us memories that last a lifetime.  For example, when a moment of devastation shocks the female lead’s world, Marley instinctively knows something is wrong and silently comforts Jenny with that intimacy known only between a dog and its owner.

The owning of a dog in this movie is a metaphor for the joys and frustrations of a union between man and woman.  You can never really understand the bonds of marriage until you have lived that embrace.  Sadly, far too many people are more willing to accept the difficulties a dog brings into their lives than those of the person to whom they’ve made a vow to cherish.  Perhaps like Fireproof, a film released earlier this year about the sanctity of marriage, Marley & Me will be a positive for anyone in a relationship.

Marley and Me is a pro-marriage, pro-life, pro-dog movie.  It can be argued that in order to truly touch viewers, to go deeper than cartoonish buffoonery, a storyline must bring in elements that stir memories or make us feel.  This one does that.

It may raise questions from little ones concerning a mommy-figure crying or a family burying the family pet, but maybe that’s not all that bad.  With discussions about the preciousness of life, perhaps that will ring a chord in their hearts.  That said, there is a far more disconcerting question awaiting unsuspecting moms and dads.  “Daddy, can we get a doggy?”   Good luck with that.

Marley & Me stars Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston.  The picture opens Christmas Day.  Please read my full review and the content (the reason for the rating) HERE.