Based on a bestselling memoir, Marley & Me is about John and Jenny Grogan who, fresh from walking down the aisle, move to sunny Palm Beach, Fla., to start their lives together. There they quickly find jobs at competing newspapers … and get a dog.
Then they all live happily ever after.
Actually, the new dog, Marley, is a tornado that can’t sit still, won’t stop gnawing on everything of value and seems unfazed by efforts to train him. Which is all kind of cute in a puppy, but in a full-grown canine behemoth, it’s not so pleasant. This hound packs the leash-straining wallop of a dozen dogcatchers and causes everyone within 50 feet of his slavering maw and raking nails to live in misery.
Not only that, but there’s a baby on the way, and Jen worries that it might not be safe. She and John love the doggone mutt, though, so they stick it out.
As the family grows, so does John’s career. He’s offered a standing column and starts writing about his embarrassing escapades with Marley. He quickly becomes the talk of the town. Why, he may someday even write a book about his family and this insane animal. That is, if Marley doesn’t drag them all to the funny farm first.
Married life is not always easy for the Grogans, and they face some straining problems even outside the blitzkrieg craziness of their dog. But through the relational tugs and pulls of everything from financial woes to a miscarriage, they figure out ways to pull together and support each other.
The movie points to the hardship and sacrifice that raising a family entails, calling it “The hardest job in the world.” Jen says, “But I made a choice. And even if it’s harder than I thought—I don’t regret it!” Jen decides to quit her job and be a full time mom, saying, “If I have to give up something … it’s not this.” At one tough point in their relationship, John’s good friend, Sebastian, wonders if the couple will divorce. John balks at that and says, “Mend it, don’t end it.”
Indeed, John and Jen eventually reap all the benefits of their relational hard work and sacrifice. “None of this was part of the plan,” John opines. Jen retorts, “No. But it’s so much better.” Their home is warm. Their children are happy. And life is rewarding. On the other hand, the perpetual single swinger Sebastian appears to hear his youthful choices ringing hollow in later years.
As far as Marley is concerned, John repeatedly points out how important the pet is to him and his family. The beloved dog becomes a trusted and important friend that the kids find great comfort in. John narrates, “A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, clever or dumb. … Give him your heart and he’ll give you his. … How many people can make you feel extraordinary?”
A B&B John and Jen stay in during a trip to Ireland is heavily adorned with Catholic figurines and paintings of everyone from Jesus and Mary to the Pope.
[Spoiler Warning] When Marley dies the family gathers to place mementos in his grave and wish him well … in heaven.
In several scenes, young women in skimpy bikinis and other skin-baring outfits walk or jog along the beachfront. Jen wears a number of formfitting, low-cut outfits. And after John’s 40th birthday party she surprises him by stripping naked and jumping into their backyard pool. (We see a bit too much of her bare body—side, back and shoulders—as she jumps in. Then, her blurred naked form in the water.) John leaps in after her and they embrace.
During a vacation trip designed to give them some alone time, John and Jen crawl under the covers of an old bed with very squeaky springs and begin to have sex. (The camera ducks away without revealing anything explicit.) Among a handful of sexual jokes and quips�����most of them shared by husband and wife—Jen calls John and tells him to come home quickly, “There’s a naked woman in your bed!” (She isn’t really.) John deadpans, “Why don’t the two of you get started and I’ll get there later?” Throughout the pic, John kisses his wife.
Marley jumps into the shower and tackles a naked female house sitter. (We see the girl’s form through a translucent shower curtain.) Later he pulls off her towel. (The camera focuses on the dog and towel, not her.) Two swimsuit-clad lovers make out passionately on a beach. A woman on the same beach soaks up the sun—facedown with her top untied.
A young woman who lives down the block from the Grogans is attacked by a mugger. We see her collapsed by her car with blood soaking the side of her shirt. (John helps her and comforts her till the police arrive.)
Other than that incident, the film’s “violence” is comically focused on Marley’s freight train rampaging as he rips up couches, tears out sheetrock, bashes through screen doors, bowls over passersby and generally throws his four-legged bulk into, on top of and through anything that takes his fancy. He chews up books, boots, chairs, floor tiles, rugs, various undergarments and children’s toys, to name but a few.
Marley & Me is advertised as fun family fare, which should imply that profanity is kept on a leash. But audiences still end up stepping in one s-word and another 10 or so uses of “h—,” “b–ch,” “a–,” “d–n” or “b–tard.” God’s name is misused at least a dozen times. There are references to “boobs” and “balls.”
Right after getting married (and getting caught in a snowstorm), John and Jen soak their feet in the tub while drinking from a bottle of wine. John and Sebastian drink beer in different scenes, and beer bottles line a table top after a party.
The Grogan’s house sitter chases Marley while clutching a prescription bottle of sedatives.
John’s editor tells of waking in the middle of the night to find his wife staring at him with a meat cleaver in her hand. Marley squats to relieve himself in the surf at the beach—causing families to run. John has to search through Marley’s excrement to find a missing necklace. And, of course, Marley drinks out of the toilet.
If you’ve seen any of the promotions for Marley & Me, you’re probably thinking that this is just another crazy pet comedy featuring two likable stars and a cute critter. But that impression is only partially correct.
The film should rightfully be titled Marley & Us, for although its action does center on a zany dog, it’s really all about the Grogan family as its members grow up around this incorrigible mutt and learn to love him dearly. In a way, Marley becomes a fur-covered representation of all that a family can be—something messy, exhausting, randomly ridiculous, incredibly difficult to deal with sometimes, and yet something that’s filled with love and reward. Something that’s well worth the effort.
So ignore all the canine-at-Christmas posters, billboards and TV trailers. This is not a lighthearted kids’ movie. Marley & Me bears the weight of some very adult issues that John and Jen work their way through (along with some unfortunate expletives). They ultimately make applause-worthy choices and see all the enriching joy that marriage, kids and a nutty dog can deliver. But the journey they take sometimes knocks a few lamps off the table—just like Marley.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.