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Monday, December 29, 2008

Marley and Me

I have a real problem with God. Let me be clear. I’m not talking about religion. My gripe is with the Big G Himself. People say that God doesn’t make mistakes, but I think He’s made a HUGE one when it comes to pets, specifically cats and dogs, but since we’re going to focus on the new movie Marley & Me I’ll even acquiesce and just say God screwed up with dogs (Sorry, Pussycats, catch you next time).

So here’s my gripe: Why would the Creator of “Man’s Best Friend” make it so that we live for seventy or eighty years and yet our canine friends are lucky if they make it to fifteen? What the Hell? This is just plain wrong. If we are going to give our hearts to these adorable fur balls it hardly seems fair that we are guaranteed to end up getting them back shattered into a million pieces when our best friend and constant, most loyal companion slides off into that eternal dirt nap after a decade and change. Shouldn’t a generous, caring God have arranged for our furry family members to live as long as we do? The truth be told, I think in a perfect world, when we bond with a dog early on he or she would somehow live with us for the rest of our lives and our hearts would grow so in synch that the dog would know that when our time was up then it was their time to curl up and take a permanent sleepy time sabbatical as well.

I just don’t understand why anyone would want to take on a canine friend more than once in their lives knowing how much hurt they are going to face when that puppy with the big brown eyes grows old and leaves them for the big doghouse in the sky. I know, I know. Everybody’s going to argue that the love and time together is worth the pain and loss that comes with death, but I don’t feel that way. You see, I really did have the best dog ever. Yeah, you say, everybody thinks their dog is the best dog in the world, but I really did have the best dog ever. Her name was Scottie, which even I will admit was a weird appellation because I named her that and I have no idea why. She wasn’t a “Scottie” dog and it was a few years before “Star Trek” hit tv, so it remains a mystery to this day where I came up with the name. I was six, so sue me for having odd taste. Scottie was my reward for having a dead mother. I suppose my father thought a dog would be an adequate substitute since he had no interest in picking up the slack in the parenting department.

For five years I shared my every day and night with my trusted pal. We spent summers swimming in
a lake a few miles from home, Scottie running effortlessly alongside as I’d pedal my bike at full speed out to the water. During the school year, every Monday through Friday, she would be waiting at the schoolyard gate for me like a guardian to walk me home, and when we got there, she would dutifully curl up at my feet while I did my homework before dinner. At night, she’d snuggle next to me on the bed and sleep spooned up in the small of my back until morning. For a lonely only child without a mom, she was the most important presence in my life. I told her all of my secrets, and there were lots of those. Unlike in Marley & Me, my real life was a dirty, ugly place, and my world was full of sexual, emotional and physical abuse. There wasn’t anyone else I could tell about this, or at least I didn’t think there was back then, so Scottie became my confidante, my therapist, my best friend, and, yes, I suppose, in some ways, my surrogate mother. I held her tight at night and cried myself to sleep more times than I can remember, using her wiry shoulder as a pillow. Of course, there were other, happier, moments, too, when I would tickle her belly as she rolled wildly about on the bed for what seemed like hours and I’d laugh until I was too exhausted to talk any longer. Finally, we’d collapse into a pile and sleep like best chums at camp. But then, one day it all came crashing down and she was gone. I won’t go into the gory details, but she died a cruel and violent death, and to this day I still miss that dog and feel like I lost her just yesterday. I’ve never gotten another dog and Scottie’s been gone forty-four years now. That’s the best dog ever for you.

“The worst dog ever” is how John Grogan (Owen Wilson; Drillbit Taylor) describes the yellow Labrador Retriever he buys for his wife Jennifer (Jennifer Anniston; The Break-Up) as a way of distracting her from the idea of having children soon after their marriage, and he quickly comes to realize that kids could easily be much less destructive than Marley turns out being. Marley begins a path of annihilation from the moment she comes home with the Grogans as a puppy and as she grows over the next few years her propensity for ruination only multiplies with her size. The truth is that Marley’s hijinks are really only a running thread through a larger autobiographical story based on John Grogan’s book and adapted for the screen by Scott Frank (The Lookout) and Don Roos (Happy Endings).

The bigger tale is about the Grogans’ own marriage, from fragile newlyweds to parents of three,
with both chasing career goals and making life changes, facing their individual struggles and challenges as a couple while they both make some sacrifices for the sake of the family unit.
The story itself is not particularly complex, but it does a realistic job at portraying the any number of obstacles that can affect the emotional make-up of a couple, from miscarriage to unexpected pregnancy, and career disappointments and unexpected turns, sometimes requiring uprooting the family and relocating… there’s a plethora of different human challenges that aren’t sugar-coated by director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) or stars Wilson and Aniston. A lot of people may be misled by the fact that the lead actors are usually perceived as “lightweights,” but the truth is both are capable of turning in really great multi-dimensional performances given the right material and direction. I’d encourage people to check out Aniston’s performance in 2002’s The Good Girl as well as Wilson’s in 2001’s Behind Enemy Lines to witness both showing totally different sides of their talent than what most of their roles have highlighted.

The same is true in
Marley & Me, which portrays both characters as adults for a change, instead of the “cusp of adulthood” people they usually depict despite the fact that they are way over the age of consent. This is Wilson’s first film since his well-publicized suicide attempt last year, and I’m sure some folks will read this as the reason for Owen’s sudden on-screen maturity, but I think it is inherently in the script, which ultimately is about stripping away the craziness of what one untrained dog does to a couple’s house and how both partners come to the common realization that for all of Marley’s nutty behavior, the truth is, as they look back at all the years they’ve had him, that they realize he has been an integral part of their family and their hearts from the very beginning.

It’s not much of a secret that
Marley & Me has a heart-wrenching ending, but don’t let that discourage you from seeing this sweet and funny tribute to a beloved member of the Grogan family. Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson have magical chemistry on-screen, and the dog(s) playing Marley will melt anyone’s heart except maybe that a-hole Michael Vick. Don’t be afraid of the last twenty minutes or so. The day I went, the theater at the Essex Cinemas was sold out and I don’t think there was a man, woman or child who didn’t laugh until they cried over Marley’s silly antics, and then they just cried. Everybody has ~ or has had ~ a “World’s Greatest Dog” and this is a lovely valentine to every dog. Just remember to bring along the Kleenex.

1 comment:

coffee buzz said...

judging by the box office, it looks like Jennifer Aniston is giving Brad Pitt a run for his money...