Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Marley & Me.

Marley & Me (David Frankel, 2008)

Category: Sad movie about dogs. “Man’s best friend” has been depicted on the silver screen nearly from the beginning of the medium itself, famously in the Rin Tin Tin and Lassie films. I feel like these heroic cinematic dogs have given people an inflated sense of dogs’ worth. It’s not like Fluffy, your two-year-old Maltese, would be able to save little Timmy if he fell down the well. Chances are you don’t even live near a well. But so yeah people love dogs, and they love movies about dogs, and the reason why these movies are sad is not because the dogs are useless and a waste of money, but because they eventually die. Which I guess makes sense. The most famous example of this genre is Old Yeller, when the dog doesn’t even die of old age. They take him out back and shoot him. (Spoiler alert.)

Other than Cujo, I can’t think of one movie that portrays dogs in an unsympathetic light. They are depicted more positively in movies than literally any other group/species. And not just positively; literally rapturously. There is a movie that exists called All Dogs Go to Heaven. All of them! Even those vicious pit bulls that bite and kill people! They get to go to heaven. There is no such thing as morality in the world of dogs. When dogs are young, they say to their dads, “Dad, I really want to go bite that mailman. Is that wrong?” And their dads say, “What does 'wrong' mean?”

My familiarity with this issue: It should be clear to all of you by now that my relationship with dogs can be charitably described as “problematic.” I think it’s important for me to clarify this, though: I do not hate dogs. I can remember being chased around by a dog when I was five, and so my first major emotion towards dogs was probably fear. The fear is largely gone now, except for enormous horse-dogs who knock off my glasses while I’m watching Lost  (AHHHHHHHH.) At this point I’m just annoyed more than anything else. I generally don’t like being licked (helloooo ladies), I don’t like being sniffed (helloooo ladies?), and I don’t like holding leashes or picking up poop or things that chew my slippers. I’m a fairly neurotic person, but I can’t see how this is that out of the mainstream. The whole experience just seems very unpleasant to me. And yet there are people I know who would be sadder if their dog died than if their grandpa died.

But the thing is that I know that I'm being silly about all this. There must be something nice about having a cute, loyal, furry and occasionally actually helpful friend around all the time. Everyone wouldn’t be this dog-crazy if there weren’t. It's just not for me. I don't really begrudge people having dogs and enjoying them on their own. I can even stomach people showing me pictures of their cute dogs. I'd just really rather not be around them, ever. Live and let live, folks. Also, they smell terrible.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: "After their wedding, newspaper writers John and Jennifer Grogan move to Florida. In an attempt to stall Jennifer's "biological clock", John gives her a puppy. While the puppy Marley grows into a 100 pound dog, he loses none of his puppy energy or rambunctiousness. Meanwhile, Marley gains no self-discipline. Marley's antics give John rich material for his newspaper column. As the Grogans mature and have children of their own, Marley continues to test everyone's patience by acting like the world's most impulsive dog." (Let's not forget how terrible these plot summaries are, by the way. This one may have actually been written by a dog.)

What I thought of the movie: It’s pretty conventional, and it’s pretty boring, but it’s not completely objectionable. I say “completely” because I objected to a good many dog-related things that I will get to later. The issue with writing about this movie for the blog is that it’s obviously only sad for one stupid reason that everyone knows about and so I’m not even going to bother with the spoiler alert in all caps: the dog dies at the end. THE DOG DIES AT THE END. I said it. And so it’s not your standard “sad movie.” So the first hour and a half is a fun carefree family comedy, with the standard issues that young couples with young kids and huge psychotic destructive dogs face. As mentioned, I had some issues with this part of the film. Pretty much from the first annoying, banal, dog-deifying line: “You know there’s nothing like the experience of raising your first dog.” I can think of a few things:
1) Raising your first cat.
2) Having a little brother.
3) Eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
4) Any other mildly pleasant experience.

So Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston are reporters living in Florida, and they get a cute dog. It’s very cute, I’ll admit that. But “it’s a cute dog” only goes so far. For me, it goes about as far as “walking past it on the street and saying ‘aww.’” It doesn’t excuse multiple acts of dog-terrorism. So Marley destroys the furniture a bunch of times, runs rampant through the town, costs them untold amounts of money, and so on and so on, for two hours, and we’re supposed to say, “oh that scamp.” The phrase “oh that scamp” is not in my vocabulary. I have no patience for scamps.

I guess it wouldn’t be that terrible if the dog stuff was the only problem I had with the movie. But it’s just lazy. At a certain point, Owen Wilson just narrates over a montage of the stuff he’s doing. For like three minutes. I couldn’t believe it. They quarrel over diaper-changing and fabric swatches and the color of the curtains and everything you’ve seen in a hundred movies before. And then they add a giant dog and say, voila. Here’s the movie, America. Hope you like buying 143 MILLION DOLLARS WORTH OF MOVIE TICKETS to see it.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: I think reasonable dog-loving viewers might have the same concerns that I did about the dog. The characters themselves even voice them at certain points, only to have those opinions disregarded or forgotten. Twenty-two minutes into the movie, Owen Wilson, remarking on the fact that the dog has grown to horse-like size in a fairly small house, says, “I say we give him away to a farm.” That could have been a movie-ending statement if Jennifer Aniston had said “yes.” (I wouldn’t have minded.) The main concern, however, was when they had kids. The scene where they bring the first kid home for the first time and “introduce” him to Marley, which has been established throughout the movie as a giant slobbering hurricane of annihilation, actually made me uncomfortable! Not just for the characters, but for the baby actor. Listen, I know these animals are highly trained, but they are ANIMALS. They are not people. Accidents happen! The dog KNOCKS THE KID OVER at one point. And at no point in the movie does Marley bite anyone (a careful choice by the filmmakers, no doubt), of course, but come on. It is dangerous and irresponsible to have an enormous insane dog in the house with a baby. I see no way around that.

I wanted to yell at the movie many, many times, but the worst may have been during a scene where Aniston gets fed up with the dog and tells Wilson to get rid of it. I was cheering. And then Wilson goes, “well obviously that’s not gonna happen,” and I shook my head. She says, “Everyone gets rid of their dogs at some point, it’s just a dog,” which just makes so much sense! And he says, I can’t believe I’m reenacting this conversation for you like I witnessed it at the mall or something, he says, “I’m just a husband, are you gonna get rid of me when I start misbehaving?” To which I yelled, “YES, IF YOU KNOCK OVER YOUR KID AND DESTROY THE FURNITURE AND SHIT ALL OVER THE PLACE, YES, THAT IS GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE.” 

Am I insane? Is that poor writing, or is that true to how most thirtysomething men with arrested development feel about their dogs? And THEN she RELENTS and lets him keep the dog: “getting rid of Marley is not gonna fix anything.” Other than all the furniture that would remain unbroken if it were gone, but I digress. And then, pretty much immediately after this scene, the dog starts getting sick. They spend the last half hour of the movie trying to make you forget about the first hour and a half, so that you will only be sad when the dog dies, and not be like, well, it was essentially a tornado of fur and slobber and excrement and teeth and dangerous household mishaps, so maybe society is better off with it being dead. Not that I'm saying that or anything.

How I felt after the movie ended: I understand what they’re getting at, honestly I do. The dog is loyal, it’s the constant that sticks with Owen Wilson through thick and thin, etc. That's the thing that the dog-lovers cling to, the loyalty angle, as if that’s something that’s exceptional or unique to dogs. (I have plenty of possessions that have stuck by my side through thick and thin. In the case of my insulin pump, quite literally.) And people are loyal too! Aniston stuck with him even when he was being an irrational tit. So yes, the dog dying is sad, of course it is. I’m not totally heartless here. There’s a touching scene where they go for a walk (this is when they live outside of Philadelphia, apparently, but good Lord it’s like a beautiful windswept golden meadow! I had no idea the Shire was right outside Philadelphia) and it’s obvious the dog is getting older and is near the end, and Wilson says some lovely heartfelt things to the dog. It’s quite nice. I did notice, however, that the dog didn’t say anything back.


  1. I bet I watched "All Dogs Go to Heaven" at least 758 times when I was younger.

  2. "it was essentially a tornado of fur and slobber and excrement and teeth and dangerous household mishaps, so maybe society is better off with it being dead."

    Society doesn't agree with you, but I do.

  3. "Aniston stuck with him even when he was being an irrational tit." Irrational tit...have to remember that.

    But yes, dogs are like children. You raise them and they love you back (probably more so than children) so you overlook their indiscretions. Kind of like the mothers of serial killers. They were always sweet boys, even when they were torturing small animals. Same holds true for dogs.

  4. Might I start by saying that you give this movie much more credit then it deserves (which isn’t saying much). While I understand that this blog is mainly about movies, let me just say that in comparison to the novel, which I did enjoy reading and admittedly cried at the end (which may have been because my dog passed away that same week), the movie did not do it justice. I’m not saying it was the best book I’ve ever read, but it was worth the time it took to read it. The story line of the movie does not differ too much from the book. I agree with what you said, some scenes were just too much (the Owen Wilson monologues). That’s the main problem; they tried to fit too much into this movie and didn’t do so in a suitable fashion. Regardless, my main problem with the movie was actually the acting. I’ve never felt strongly one way or another about Jennifer Aniston, but geez really Owen Wilson? I think it’s safe to say his acting career has gone down hill over the past few years. However, some might argue that his acting career was nothing much to brag about in the first place. I will give him some credit though, for me he did redeem himself in Midnight in Paris (maybe that’s just because of my soft spot for all things Woody Allen). Either way his acting in this movie was far from bearable. In the end this movie did unfortunately make it into my movie collection; much like Vicki Christina Barcelona (obviously it’s Woody Allen and Javier Bardem, double bonus), Biutiful, and Blue Valentine, just for the sheer reason that I really wanted to watch them and finding a video store seemed to obsolete an idea. Sadly unlike some of my other on a whim purchases this movie did not pay off.

    After my rant, (with hope that you’ll actually read it), might I suggest a few movies for you to review?

    Everything Must Go
    Up In the Air (George Clooney- need I say more)
    Love Me If You Dare
    Once (Not as sad as some of the other movies, but still a great film)

    Finally I will admit, I have read a lot of your blog, but not all of it. I did skip a few posts when it came to movies I have yet to see and actually have an interest in seeing (i.e. Benjamin Button), but what I’ve read I have enjoyed. While I often find myself laughing at many of your comments I have to say my biggest LOL moment (yes I went there) was a comment on your first blog post. “I saw you on jeopardy the other night and now I read your blog, you are soo good looking!” One more time, lol what? Not to say I disagree with her statement, but really? Either way a hit’s a hit, it’s one more person reading your blog for whatever reason. Okay, maybe that was a bit too much, but my apologies I couldn’t resist. Unless that was your underlying intention, to show your sensitive side through a “study” of sad movies in order to win over the ladies. Well played. Either way, congratulations on your time spent on jeopardy and possibly your new dating web site.

  5. you people are horrible, dogs are better than people, I would kiss my smelly dog's mouth before your evil ass. A dog probably chased you because it knew you were a bad person, that's what dogs do. I have never had nothing but good experiences with animals, esp dogs, the fact that you have had bad experiences, it means you are a bad person and the dog didn't like you, or maybe it was just a "dog" trying to play and you were a complete pussy! Nothing will ever give you as much unconditional love as a dog or any pet for that matter, They are innocent, helpless, and loving and humans are innately evil. You are a sicko that probably killed kittens and puppies as a youngster, I'd save a dog before I'd save your rotten ass