Marley & Me: South Florida Without Sex, Drugs or Violence
“Marley and Me” was released December 25, 2008. The film’s opening weekend box office gross was $37 million.
“Marley and Me” is not your typicalMiami movie. While most films are set here because some of the subject matter is pertinent to the area (think drugs, Cubans, hurricanes, football, crimes, guns, sex, fancy cars or any combination of the above) this movie is about something so wholesome it hardly seems to fit in a movie set in South Florida: A dog. Or, more precisely, the worst dog ever.
Now while I am usually about as entertained by pet stories as I am by congressional proceedings, I will put aside my usual brand of cynicism for “stories nobody wants to hear,” and take a look at this film through the eyes of a dog lover. Or at least dog tolerator. And as a whole, the movie fares pretty well.
LIKE IF CARL HIAASEN DECIDED TO ALL OF A SUDDEN START WRITING ABOUT HIS DOG…
The film, for those not familiar, is an adaptation of the 2005 book from former South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist John Grogan, played by Owen Wilson. It follows his life from the time of his marriage in Michigan in the early 1990s (his wife is played by Jennifer Aniston) until (SPOILER YOU SHOULD HAVE FIGURED OUT ALREADY ALERT) the dog dies in present day. The film does not have one central plot, but more of a series of vignettes about Grogan and how the dog has influenced everything he has done.
The Grogans purchase Marley (named after reggae legend Bob Marley) at some sort of puppy farm where he is discounted from the rest of the dogs. Like he’s $175 less which, most would think, would be some kind of tip off as to what’s to come. Not so much. The dog proceeds to tear apart the family’s small Broward County home every time he is left alone, especially during thunderstorms, of which he is terrified. And being afraid of thunderstorms in South Florida is like being afraid of smog if you live in Los Angeles.
NO MENTION OF INDICTMENTS OF LOCAL POLITICIANS, THOUGH
Grogan finds himself employment as a reporter at the Sun-Sentinel through his old college buddy Sebastian played by Eric Dane, or Dr. McSteamy for all you ladies out there. The film actually does a great job of capturing a lot of the timely events of South Florida, where the papers in the newsroom talk about the construction of 595 and other events going on in South Florida during the first half of the last decade.
There is a reference to Hurricane Andrew, and even the Danny Rolling murder trial is alluded to at one point. John’s wife, Jenny, even writes a story for the Palm Beach Post about how Florida needed new voting machines and the massive problems not doing so might cause. Not sure if that part was true, but it drew a hearty chuckle from the audience.
The film also does a wonderful job of showing people why they should never have children. Despite the dog who literally eats answering machines, John and his wife seem very happy until they decide to have a child. Then the dog becomes even more stressful. Then John gives up an international investigative piece with his old buddy Sebastian to help raise the kid, forcing him to longingly look at it when it appears in the New York Times. Then a second child comes. Then life gets more stressful and more unpleasant, and really serves to discourage folks with unruly pets from having children. Then a third child shows up.
SPRAWL - THE UNSUNG STAR OF THE MOVIE
After a stabbing in front of his Broward County home, John decides to move his family to the safest part of South Florida, which, he is told, is Boca Raton. The next shot is so unmistakably a Boca Raton housing development it is scary. Whoever did the site location for this film knew exactly what kind of house to look for to capture the essence of Boca suburbia, as they do with most of the locations in the film.
The sprawling overhead shots of Broward County give an unfamiliar viewer a great idea of what South Florida really is – High Rise condos on the water and then endless sprawl of planned communities. I watched this movie with my parents, who have been out here once in their lives, and they said they really got what I was talking about when they saw the shots of the sprawl.
The film only has a few small inaccuracies, like when they take Marley to a Marlins game (I was actually at the game where they shot this scene this past summer) and they show the Marlins in their newer uniforms, and I believe Dan Uggla at bat. Who would have been about 14 in the mid-1990s. There is also a sequence early on where they go to a doggie obedience school at Jose Marti Park, and you can see some of the half-finished Brickell condos in the background. But, really, that’s getting awfully nitpicky for a film that does a great job with its South Florida nuances.
LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, ONCE YOU MOVE OUT OF SOUTH FLORIDA YOU BECOME LESS INTERESTING
If you are a Broward or Palm Beach resident and want to go and see this movie for the locations, you can go ahead and leave after about an hour and twenty minutes. This is about the point where Marley disgraces himself at the only dog beach in South Florida, effectively having it shut down. After this, Grogan decides to take a job in Philadelphia, and the movie starts getting schmaltzy.
While most of the film keeps you entertained with Marley’s perpetual antics, once he starts to go the death is drawn out way too long. The dog has like two separate trips to the hospital, and a funeral, and a eulogy, and it all could have been done in about ten minutes. Of course, the entire audience was crying at the end. Except me. Maybe I’ll understand better once my betta fish goes belly up.
So all in all “Marley and Me” is a nice enough family comedy that does a good job of capturing what life in South Florida is like. Many of us who were here over the summer remember its filming, and the perpetual Jennifer Aniston-Owen Wilson sightings around South Beach, so it’s always fun to see the fruits of the summer movie celebrity season. But even though it is entertaining, you can wait for this one to come out on DVD. It’s a little long for what it is, and being able to stop and come back would be a nice option. For dog lovers and family lovers, this is a great one for you and the kids, because you don’t have the usual brands of sex and violence that mark most movies set in South Florida. Just a man, his wife, his kids and his dog. Apparently, the worst dog in the world.
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