Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 6/19/09

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.

Marley & Me

My wife is a big-time dog person. I’m more the take-em-or-leave-em type. So, when we rented the Owen Wilson/Jennifer Aniston dog dramedy Marley & Me last weekend, suffice it to say that she was a little more excited than I was. I wasn’t dreading the movie; I just wasn’t expecting a whole lot from it. I figured it would be formulaic and cute with a heartstring-tugging ending. I figured it would be pretty much like every other dog movie that’s ever been made. I was right on all counts. What I didn’t anticipate was that in spite of its blatant predictability, it’s actually pretty good.

The movie is actually based on newspaper columnist John Grogan’s autobiographical book of the same name (so it’s hard to get too upset at the formulaic nature, since most of this stuff really happened). Wilson and Aniston star as Grogan and his new bride Jenny as they leave Michigan to pursue new jobs at newspapers in South Florida and start their life as a family. The two of them adopt a yellow lab puppy named Marley, who very quickly shows his colors as “the world’s worst dog.” The film follows the Grogans as jobs change, their family grows, and their marriage is challenged – with Marley there every step of the way, for better or for worse.

If that plot setup seems a little thin, it is – and it’s actually one of the movie’s strong points. The film finds its drama in the ins-and-outs of daily life and the challenges and joys of marriage and family. There’s no contrived, over-the-top antagonist, no implausible crisis to face. Screenwriters Scott Frank and Don Roos and director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) realize that there’s plenty of drama in day-to-day life to sustain an interesting film without resorting to cheap cinematic tricks. Wilson and Aniston are both strong in the lead roles, contributing to a movie that is one of the more refreshingly honest, realistic, and moving depictions of family life I’ve seen on screen in recent memory. This is a film that’s not deprecating marriage and children, but showing the family as something of high value that is worth the many sacrifices life demands to sustain and nurture it. With my little girl about to turn 1 tomorrow, perhaps my heart was a little more tuned to what amazing blessings marriage and family are, but I found the film genuinely moving. The standard “bad-dog” gags are played - but not overplayed - and many of the film’s scenes can be predicted before the previous scene even finishes. As I said, it’s formulaic, and for that reason I didn’t really want to like it, yet I did, in spite of itself. So guys, if your wife wants to rent Marley & Me this weekend, rest easy – this is no vapid chick flick, and it’s certainly not a film you have to dread seeing. In fact, in a culture that sees marriage as a joke and children as a hindrance to personal freedom, it’s actually rather refreshing. - ***1/2 (out of 4)

Marley & Me is rated PG for thematic material, some suggestive content and language.

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