In many ways, the movie Marley & Me is itself like a sweet little squirmy puppy. It's good natured and earnest, funny and cute. It turns out to be pretty much exactly what you expect if you've seen the trailers and/or read the book on which the movie is based: Literally a story about a crazy, uncontrollable dog whose life impacts a young couple's marriage in unexpected ways.
That said, the movie is often just as much about the protagonist, John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and his relationship with his wife Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston) as it is about the dog. And it's about the sacrifices we make for the ones we love — even for the ones we love who are furry and four-legged. Much of the time is spent following this husband and wife as they go through the growing pains of marriage: Finding a home (and then trying to find new homes in better neighborhoods), figuring out what they need professionally, having children, and making decisions about work goals vs. family, etc. etc. It's all very simple and normal, but there's a kind of comfort in that. For more of my thoughts on this, read more.
In terms of the narrative itself, there's nothing new here. Marriage is harder than we thought it would be! Kids are stressful! I wish I had a different job! It's all the same old normal things that most people go through. The main difference is that all the while there's this wacky dog who makes the humans' lives even more complicated — but also ultimately more rewarding.
There's something inherently good-humored about watching the crazy antics of a dog. With human drama and relationships there's all the judging that goes on and the complex emotions, but most people really enjoy animals on a basic level so there's a sort of purity to the enjoyment that comes from this movie. However, you can be sure that the dog is used at times to symbolize things for the humans ("Time to let you off your leash . . . hey, I'd like to feel that free, too . . ."). And plenty of scenes are entirely about the human characters. These performances are good but this isn't a movie you see for the performances (though Alan Arkin's portrayal of John's no-nonsense, vaguely paternal boss is consistently a breath of fresh air).
Overall, it's just nice to have something so purely good that a whole audience can agree on: That dog is cute and funny. There are plenty of provocative, divisive films in the world and then there's this one that only asks you to relax and have a good time. It's an easygoing movie about things that feel relatable and normal to us. There's no reinvention of the wheel, but what better movie to open around the holidays than one that is so familiar and comforting?
Photos courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox