Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Marley and Me

I don't cry at movies. Ever. In fact, I don't really cry all that much in general. Maybe once every couple of years or so at a funeral, but that's it. Occasionally, I'll get a bit choked up and feel some tears welling while watching something like this, but that's about it.

This movie destroyed me.

I know I'm not alone, especially because my mom told me about weeping when she and my stepdad saw it in the movie theatre. But moms cry all the time. And here's the thing: I had read the book. I knew exactly what was going to happen. From looking at the dopey poster and the goofy trailers, I thought they were going to turn the film into a schmaltzy romantic comedy.

I give the filmmakers credit. It could've easily been merely a vehicle for Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson featuring comic relief from an adorable lab. But it's really not a rom-com at all. There aren't a lot of sappy moments. The couple can't even "meet cute;" the story starts after they've already been together for some time. It's a far better movie than it has any right to be, since it's essentially just the story of a man trying to deal with his family, his career, and his dog.

Of course, the dog is key. Marley is "the worst dog ever," but that's part of his charm. Well, at least most of the time. He drives Aniston's character to the brink at one point; she even threatens to get rid of him for good. Ultimately, the sweet and adorable moments Marley provides (such as the touching scene where he calmly rests his head in a sobbing Aniston's lap after she learns she has miscarried) make him a valued member of the family.

I'm reasonably certain that I'm not spoiling anything by going into the ending here, but just in case you've never heard of this flick, you might want to stop reading now. Anyway, Marley gets old near the end of the film and eventually must be put to sleep. I knew this was going to happen. I had read the friggin' book. I thought I was prepared. But man, Director David Frankel really went for the heartstrings here.

If this were a movie about a dying person, I would've rolled my eyes and moaned at the emotional manipulation. But here's the thing: Dogs are better than people. They're more loyal, loving, giving, fun, repentant, protective, etc. One of my favorite sayings is "Lord, please help me be the person my dog thinks I am."

What the movie does well is show the loving simplicity of the relationship between a dog and its owner. All the other aspects of Wilson's life are complicated and full of trials and tribulations. But every day when he comes home, Marley's happy to see him. Marley will always go for a run. Marley will always chase the ball.

Until Marley starts limping a little. And then his stomach twists on itself. And then Wilson is hunched over a terminal Marley, lying limply on the veterinarian's table, and he's stroking the dog, and telling Marley "You're a great dog" over and over...

At that point, I was still holding it together...barely. But then they cut to a shot of the oldest son, putting in a videotape full of Marley moments with the family. Back to the vet's, where the camera shows the needle going into the i.v. tube, and it's all too much. If you've ever loved a dog through its natural life and had to put it down, you will sob just like I did. By the time they bury Marley in the backyard, and they ask the boy if there's anything he wants to tell his dog, and he tearily responds, "He knows," well, you'd have to be Stalin or Idi Amin or something to not be affected.

This qualifies as a pretty good movie that I never want to see ever again. It's just too much trouble to change that "Has gone ___ days without crying" sign hanging in my mantic.

Nolanometer Final Grade: B

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