On paper, I am not the right audience for 'Marley & Me.' I'm not a dog lover (despite being part-owner of a white lab retriever, just like the one seen in the movie), I don't like cutesy animal pictures that are really about "relationships," and I certainly don't go for cheesy, sanitized family flicks. Yet, despite being shamelessly melodramatic and completely blackmailing the audience with it's impossibly cute titular puppy, I just couldn't resist the charms of 'Marley & Me.' By the end of its tearjerking, five-hankie climax, I just threw up my hands and gave into its maudlin manipulations. I'm a sap.
Based on the runaway best-seller by John Grogan, "Marley & Me: Love and Life with the World's Worst Dog," the film is not some cute family dog picture, or even "Old Yeller" meets "My Dog Skip." Rather, it's really a romantic dramedy, which uses the conceit of one really cute puppy as a narrative device to string a series of love and life lessons upon. Essentially a mid-life autobiography, the John Grogan of the book is played by Owen Wilson, with the story beginning on his wedding night to wife Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston). Though I find this hard to swallow, apparently John did not know until the honeymoon that his new bride had already mapped out their entire married life for them without so much as a consultation. John understandably feels overwhelmed by her expectations, but moves to Florida as she demands anyway, to start a new life and plan for the inevitable arrival of a new baby. But there they meet new best friend Sebastian (Eric Dane), who helps John decide to buy Jennifer a puppy as a way to prolong her relentless desire to have a child.
Of course, the arrival of the new puppy, a white lab retriever named Marley, does not go according to plan. Turns out Marley is quite the hound from hell -- biting, chewing, destroying everything in sight and generally being a toothy little terror. Eventually John and Jennifer will have a child, too, and the demands of family and pet become overwhelming, if funny for us, the audience. While this is no Stupid Pet Tricks movie (thankfully, Marley doesn't talk with CGI lips, or dance to the Macarena), there are enough canine mishaps and pratfall comedy to satisfy animal movie fans. Ultimately, however, 'Marley & Me' is really about John and Jennifer, and Marley is well-integrated throughout to anchor the character arcs and romantic lessons learned.
'Marley & Me' is a movie that is more than the sum of its parts. Indeed, some scenes fall flat. The dog stuff is cute, but many moments still feel forced, and there are many awkward sequences that go nowhere or feel disjointed. Yet, somehow, the cumulative power of the story, and of John and Jennifer's plight, builds to quite a cry-fest of a climax. Damn if I couldn't help but shed a few tears by film's end -- I won't spoil any of the surprises, but I don't think you'll be too shocked to learn that 'Marley & Me' trots out every sentimental trick in the book to wring our emotions. Though the book is supposedly based on fact, it's hard not to see some inflation in how neatly events fit together, but this is still a film with heart and one that has plenty to say about the challenges of modern romance and family.
'Marley & Me' is also aided by the performances. Wilson and Aniston make a likeable couple, and both are adept at playing up the comedy without downplaying the emotional. Though I could have done with a little less mugging-cute at times to the puppies, Wilson in particular finds the right notes of pathos in John so we can connect to his everyman dilemma. Aniston is beautiful as always, and if limited in range as an actress, I found it impossible to dislike her. And then, of course, there is Marley, who is played by not one but a cavalcade of pups and full-grown beasts. It's a testament to the trainers and filmmakers that the illusion is seamless -- we really grow attached to this mutt, and I certainly was never distracted by the parade of dogs used throughout the film.
Is 'Marley & Me' a great film? No. It's too obvious and shameless for that. But it's sweet, entertaining, and surprisingly poignant by the end of its 115 minutes. Sometimes movies affect us despite being so transparent in their motives, and 'Marley & Me' is one of those. I resisted as best I could, but I guess I'm just a sucker for cute dogs and their photogenic, bumbling owners.
Fox presents 'Marley & Me' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (2.35:1). This is a very nice-looking movie -- bright, colorful and very sharp.
As you would expect, the source is impeccable for a new release. The blacks are rich, and contrast is well-done if slightly overdone (whites are a bit too bright, leading to blooming). Colors are bold and eye-popping, with no oversaturation and a generally natural look. Fleshtones are also quite pleasant. The transfer remains sharp throughout, with excellent detail and only a slight black crush to lessen shadow delineation. And no surprise, the encode is rock solid with no obvious artifacts or edge enhancement. 'Marley & Me' looks as sweet as its titular puppy.
A DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) is provided. It's a nice mix, even if the film's sound design will hardly tax the the capabilities of your home theater.
'Marley & Me' is nice and bouncy. There are fairly frequent discrete effects throughout, from barks to crashing objects to nice interjection of score and songs. Ambiance is not massive or sustained, but supports the film's subject matter more than adequately. A very slick and well-produced studio film, dynamic range is wide and supple, with low bass that supports the action but never intrudes. Dialogue sounds crisp and clean, and always well balanced. No complaints here -- 'Marley & Me' sounds as good as it probably could.
'Marley & Me' comes to Blu-ray as a three-disc "Bad Dog Edition," and while technically true, don't expect a trifecta of extras. This is really only a single-disc Blu-ray, with two additional discs featuring a DVD copy of the film and a Digital Copy (compatible with PCs and iTunes), respectively. All bonus features can be found on the Blu-ray disc, and are presented in a mix of 1080 and 480 video.
'Marley & Me' is a film that wasn't really marketed that accurately. It's not a children's film, or a puppy movie, but a relationship dramedy that uses the conceit of a dog's life span as a melodramatic device to clue us into universal life lessons. Yet, it's effective and funny and, at times, moving. This Blu-ray is quite nice, with good video and audio, and enough supplements to rate as a worthwhile purchase. If you want a good, "up" cry, give 'Marley & Me' a try.