BY JONATHAN VALANIA So, just got back from holidaying at my sister’s down in the Dirty South. (Oh, it was lovely, thanks, you’re a lamb for asking) And as is the Christmas tradition, Uncle Jon gave his sister and her hubbo a 2.5 hour respite from the rigors of parenting and took my nephews (ages 8 and 10), niece (age 4), and my mom (age 68) to the movies. We went to see Marley & Me, the movie version of Inquirer columnist John Grogan’s best-selling book, based on his reportedly wildly popular newspaper columns about life with Marley, AKA the worst dog in the world, possibly the universe.
Everyone loved it — hell, the film already banked $51.7 million worth of box office, making Marley the 800 pound gorilla of the multiplexes, trouncing big dawgs like Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Clint Eastwood in the Christmas blockbuster sweepstakes — everyone that is, but me. What’s not to love you ask? The lovable, stonerific Owen Wilson as John Grogan? Check. Likable Everygirl Jennifer Aniston as his long-suffering, ever-patient wife? Check. The always great Alan Arkin doing his best desert-dry deadpan drollery as Grogan’s editor? Check. A Labrador retriever, named after reggae icon Bob Marley, that spends two and half hours pissing in, shitting on, leg-humping and, ultimately, eating everything that moves and then everything that doesn’t? Check. How can you lose with that premise, you say? Just, rinse and repeat, right?
Right. Over and over again, for two and half hours. And $51.7 million later…Ka-CHING.
So why then, in my estimation, doesn’t this dog of a comedy hunt? Well, for starters the only meaningful insight into the human condition this shaggy dog tale affords us is this: Parenting ever-multiplying newborns is HARD when your dog is a world class asshole. But at the same time, succeeding in journalism is EASY when your dog is a world class asshole because you get to write column after column about his assholic exploits — defecating in the ocean, demolishing like a hurricane Grogan’s car park with just his jaws and claws, literally eating his way through walls, traumatizing a post-pubescent babysitter half his size with his boorish bullying, and practically reducing a bitch-on-wheels obedience school instructor [a cartoonishly severe Kathleen Turner] to girlyman tears with his implacable insubordination.
I could forgive the fact that Wilson spends the whole movie enabling the worst instincts of his maladroit mutt, and Aniston spends the whole movie grinning-and-bearing her human chewtoy existence, that is when not quitting her career as a journalist to pop out a succession of babies. I could forgive the fact that Arkin spends most of the movie doling out specious wisdom along the lines of: ‘Oh, your wife is mad at you? Buy her some jewelry, broads are suckers for that crap.’ I could forgive the fact that Grogan’s journo pal, Sebastian Tunney, is a hard drinkin’ skirt chaser invested with all the humanity of a cardboard cut-out lobby display who is too wrapped up in his stupid investigative journalist career to make time for having babies and raising a world class asshole of a dog. I could forgive the fact that newspapers are portrayed as irrelevant dinosaurs filled with nobody-bothers-to-read stories about boring things like Desert Storm and Pablo Escobar that every now and then publish Grogan’s hilarious, must-read columns about his world class asshole of a dog. I could forgive the latter in particular, because, sad to say, this is largely true in the eyes of many.
But what I cannot forgive is the fact that the audience is expected to fall in love with, root for, cheer on, and above all, laugh at the slobbery sociopathic exploits of this dog named Marley that NEVER — not even once — does anything remotely redeeming. Lassie saved people from burning buildings. Beethoven had a keen ear for Ludwig van’s “Fifth Symphony.” The Shaggy DA fought organized crime. Scooby Doo built gravity-defying Dagwoods. Cujo mauled without prejudice. These were canines with redeeming social value, that (excepting Cujo) did things that helped people, or at the very least softened the harshness of life with the big wet hairy tongue of their unconditional love. Marley is all take and no give. The closest he gets to a good deed is playing wingman for Sebastian in his tireless pursuit of unsuspecting beachside bimbae — which is hardly the stuff of Boy Scout merit badges. As such, the movie limps along, getting by on poop jokes, Wilson’s laconic charm and Aniston’s indomitable cuteness. At the end (SPOILER ALERT) Marley dies, presumably from eating too many things God never intended for dogs to ingest, and we are expected to, like, feel bad about this.
Hmmm. Yeah, not so much.
I know, I sound like a crank. What am I getting all worked up about, you say? It’s just a stupid feel good holiday dog comedy that tickles the funnybone of little kids and grandmothers and gives your sister and her husband two and a half hours of relief from the iron lung of parentage and maybe a chance to have non-procreational sex, which if true, I DON’T EVEN WANNA KNOW ABOUT IT, right? Well, true. But two things come to mind. First, I’ll never get those two and a half hours back. Never. And towards the end I will well and truly regret their absence from my thinning sheaf of days. Just sayin’. Second, even people who like stupid feel good holiday dog comedies that shamelessly pander to the lowest common denominator deserve better than this.