Few major Hollywood offerings focus on life in the suburbs, and when they do, the picture they paint is hardly pretty. Audiences who reside in the family-friendly communities that border metropolitan areas routinely see their lives portrayed as rife with violence, depression, sexual betrayal, and lots and lots of quiet desperation. What they rarely witness on film are the encouragement, pettiness, insecurity, deep love, and profound commitment that are more common features of middle-class American marriage.
When the screenplay for the best-selling memoir Marley and Me landed in director Dave Frankel's lap, he, along with stars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, saw a chance to change that. "We were all excited about the opportunity to be a part of a film that actually shows a happy couple," says Frankel. Aniston adds that the film offers husbands and wives something they rarely see-a romantic comedy about married people. "I really wanted to be in this movie because for once it wasn't the girl trying to get the guy or the guy trying to get the girl and you end the movie when they ride off into the sunset," she says. "It's the sequel to that. And it's funny because real life is funny."
While not quite on par with It's a Wonderful Life, Marley and Me reflects a similar heart. After moving with his wife Jenny (Aniston) to Florida, John Grogan (Wilson) is initially thrilled to land a job as a reporter at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. However, when a colleague's departure has John filling in as a columnist, he finds he has a knack for it despite how little it jives with his vision of himself as serious journalist. Jenny's desire to start a family doesn't exactly square with his ambitions either, so to stay her maternal instincts a bit longer, John surprises her with a Labrador puppy named Marley. A puppy that, as we soon find out, is a serious contender for "world's worst dog."
Though no dog lover will fail to identify the alternately destructive and adorable Marley with his own mutt, at its core, Marley and Me is about human choices and the sacrifices and payoffs that come as a result of those choices. John can't help but miss the ego gratification his playboy best friend Sebastian (Eric Dane) gets from winning the attentions of countless attractive women.
Even more important to John, he can't help but recognize the career sacrifices he has to make, knowing that the steady hours of a columnist are much more conducive to raising a family than the dangerous, globe-trotting work of high-level reporting. Rather than a wingless angel, John has a disobedient dog showing him that the life he occasionally envies doesn't offer the same benefits his own does. "At the end of the day," notes Wilson of the two characters, "Sebastian is lonely, and there's a powerful realization for John that he's made the right choices, and that there's nothing as strong as the love for, and of, your family."
But while the film manages to avoid painting suburban life as awash with misery, it doesn't avoid the tough stuff. Aniston in particular offers women a character to relate to-a wife and mother who is dedicated to giving her best to her family yet still mourns the professional opportunities she has had to pass on. John and Jenny experience disappointment and at times harbor resentment toward one another.
But, as the script makes explicit, leaving is never on the table. They push through it together until new joy and new blessings bond them together once again. Some of the sweetest (and funniest) scenes in the film are those that likely earned it a PG rating for suggestive content and language. While the material is in no way objectionable, it's nice to see at least one director who recognizes that husbands and wives not only enjoy sex, but enjoy it more than swinging bachelor types like Sebastian who have no real connection with their lovers. In Marley and Me, as in life, both romance and laughs persist years after the wedding day.