Marley & Me (2008)

Rated: PG for thematic material, some suggestive content and language.
Length: 115 minutes
Grade: B+CAA=B+
Budget: Unknown, perhaps $30 million?
Box Office: $302 million (143 U.S., 101 Intl., 58 DVD)

Written by: Scott Frank (Lookout, Interpreter, Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Malice, and Little Man Tate) and Don Roos (Bounce, Diabolique, and Boys on the Side), based on the memoir by John Grogan
Directed by: David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada)
Starring: Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, with appearances by Eric Dane, Kathleen Turner, and Alan Arkin.

In an effort to slow down his wife’s biological clock, a struggling journalist buys his wife a dog, who turns out to be the most rambunctious and difficult golden retriever dog imaginable. Eventually, they start having children and he becomes a columnist, and this is basically a story of their life and struggles as a family over the lifespan of this dog.

Entertainment Value: B+
What you need to know about this movie is that it is not what you think it’s going to be. Between the PG rating, the stars, and the marketing, you’ll be expecting a comedy, probably a romantic comedy. This movie is much more of a drama with occasional funny moments. And the PG might lead you to believe this is a kids movie, but it really isn’t. More on that in a moment. But once you realize what the movie really is, it’s very good. The plot is wonderfully ordinary. The characters are believable and loveable, and this watches very much the way I expect John Grogan’s columns read: like endearing vignettes of a middle-class life observed with some degree of self-critical wit.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity C, Violence B, Language C, Illegality A
In spite of being a movie about a dog, I don’t think this is appropriate for kids under 10 at least. Our original plan had been to watch it with Spencer, but I’m really glad we didn’t. The movie abounds with sexy women in bikinis, includes several bedroom scenes and one of the married couple getting naked in their pool, and there’s lots of discussion of pregnancy. A woman is stabbed (not shown), and Marley destroys A LOT of stuff. But the real disappointment was language. Every (and I mean every) swear word other than the big one shows up in this movie at least once. And although they are always contextually appropriate rather than gratuitous, I just kept asking myself why the MPAA rated this PG when PG-13 is available. It’s certainly on the light end of PG-13, nowhere near an R, but PG just invites most parents to think any kid should watch it, and they shouldn’t, partly because of the language, and partly because of the adult subject matter. PG-10 at least.

Significant Content: A
Relationships (even with difficult dogs) matter more than any amount of stuff ever can. Sometimes we love people (and dogs) not merely in spite of their flaws but because of them. Marriage and family are far more difficult than the single life, but far more rewarding and meaningful as well. Sometimes professional success has to be sacrificed for family. And the best things in life are sometimes not where you expected to find them.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
I secretly think that this movie is not about a difficult dog at all, but about difficult people and, especially, having children. See, rationally, no one would choose a Marley (like no one would choose children with all of their inconveniences and problems), but if only once you can commit yourself to having a Marley (or children), you can’t imagine your life without them anymore. Also, I thought the continuous contrast drawn between John (the reluctant family man) and Sebastian (the gorgeous world-class single ladies man journalist) did a real service to forcing people to contemplate which trajectory provides meaning in life. Plus it wasn’t overdone or preachy, just clear.

Discussion Questions:
~What does Marley’s leash symbolize? What is intended in the scene where John takes it off at the beach?
~Consider some of the elements in this movie where things did not go as planned, yet turned out to be real blessings. How much of your own life that has been worthwhile been the part that followed your plan and how much the part that violated it?
~At one point, Jennifer says that no one tells you how hard parenting and marriage will be, but John replies that they do, but no one believes it. Who do you think is right? To what degree is our culture honest with people about marriage and children? Is it healthy or unhealthy to know in advance how hard these things really are? What are the advantages and disadvantages of ignorance in this regard?
~To what degree is grief an essential element of a full human life? When people avoid the griefs of marriage and children, what are they missing? What is Sebastian’s life missing? Does it make him a better reporter? Consider the criticism of John that his reporting has too much of him in it.
~Would you consider John and Jennifer’s marriage a healthy one or something else? Is it possible that our ideas about what healthy and unhealthy marriages look like are completely mistaken?
~Why is Jennifer so resistant to getting a nanny to help her out? How does her choice parallel those made by John?
~She says that she has given up so much of what made her who she was in becoming a parent, but she doesn’t regret any of it. How is parenting similar to committing your life to Christ?
~Would you describe this as a pro-family film? Do you think it makes people want to have kids or makes them want to avoid them?
~How important is it for children to have dogs around as they grow up? Did you? What are the negative aspects of having them around with children?

Overall Grade: B+
Very good, just not what you’re expecting. And you’ve gotta be impressed that I didn’t even downgrade it for the ungrammatical title. Don’t believe that it is? What’s that old movie about the King of Siam with Yul Brynner? Oh, yeah, now I remember. “The King and Me.”

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