Everyone loves a good story involving a dog. The proof is in the past: Lassie, Beethoven and Homeward Bound are all certified family favourites. The problem nowadays though is the market is over-saturated with sequels, remakes and straight to DVD releases – and our canine friends aren’t spared from this. In 2009 though, one film left a mark on everyone’s hearts who viewed it, and even to this day is widely accepted as one of the most heart wrenching films ever. It is, of course, Marley & Me.
Chronicling the lives of newspaper writers John and Jenifer Grogan (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston respectively), the film really starts when they move to Florida after getting married. Jenifer wishes to have a child, but John isn’t too sure. So in a compromise, they get a puppy – which over the years becomes Marley, the most excitable dog to have walked the earth. His actions fuel John’s previously failing writing, and in turn he becomes a columnist, writing about Marley’s boisterous behaviour. As the years roll by, Marley’s enthusiasm and puppy-like personality never falters, which frequently drive the couple (who eventually do become parents) to the brink of insanity, but ultimately they learn that Marley is the heart and soul of their family.
Unlike many movies in the past featuring dogs, Marley & Me is just as much about the owners as it is the dog. Aniston and Wilson make a brilliant couple, and without them this film wouldn’t be as tear jerking as it is. Wilson gives a rare serious performance and it’s hugely impressive, whilst Aniston’s performance is a real career highlight. If you’re one of the five people in the world who have yet to see it, this paragraph comes with a spoiler warning. But for everyone else, you’ll know that this film is the entire life cycle of Marley. And by ‘entire’, I mean even the unthinkable: his death. Would it be just as tragic if John had passed away? I personally believe not. But the loss of human life is also dealt with, and much like Marley’s passing, it’s done in such a tasteful and professional way that even though we don’t see the character, we feel the pain of the Grogan’s. That’s the kicker for a lot of the events in Marley & Me: they’re scenarios that the majority than relate to.
If you’ve ever owned a dog, this is a must-see movie. Director David Frankel captures the ups and downs of owning one in such a way that has never been done before. They’re your best friend and, at times, your worst enemy but at no point will you ever stop loving them. Your life may change, but they will still be waiting; never judging or becoming disloyal. It’s hard to believe that such emotions could be caught on film, but by utilizing a narrative arc that spans the life of Marley, Frankel pulls it off magnificently. The scenes where Marley causes utter havoc for John and Jen are laugh out loud funny, while as previously stated, by the time the credits crawl up the screen you’ll be in floods of tears: anyone who says otherwise either has no soul or has never had the pleasure of owning a dog.
Simply put, Marley & Me is essential viewing for young and old alike. Aniston and Wilson shine, and of course Marley steals, rips and destroys (in a good way!) every scene he’s in. The emotion displayed here is raw and I’d take a bet that the tears on set were real when filming Marley’s last scenes. If you’re feeling extra brave, I recommend a double bill of this and Haichi: A Dog’s Tale – just remember the tissues.