Based on newspaper columnist John Grogan’s best-selling book about his life Marley & Me is a study of a married couple who happen to own one of the more destructive Labradors known to the canine species. From the minute newlyweds John (Owen Wilson) and Jenny Grogan (Jennifer Aniston) pick out Marley from a pen of cute Lab puppies they realize something’s up when the seller says they can have him for a discounted price. Soon it becomes very apparent Marley is un-trainable as he proceeds to jump and climb and chow down on anything he can. Still John and Jenny fall for the mutt and as their family begins to grow as they change jobs have babies move to new places Marley remains a constant fixture. For better or worse. This marks a sort of comeback for its stars. For Jennifer Aniston it’s a way to clear up all her past movie mistakes. Her portrayal of a woman coping with job marriage kids -- and dog who barks at the garbage truck waking up her napping young children at the wrong times -- shows just how mature she has gotten as an actress. Owen Wilson too has matured and proves he’s good at his craft playing John with equal measures bemusement and joy at how his life turned out. And the two are genuinely convincing as a married couple without any of the clichés. Wilson and Aniston have both had to take a hard look at themselves personally but they seem to have come out stronger on the other side. Also good is Grey’s Anatomy’s Eric Dane as John’s journalist buddy Sebastian an investigative reporter John envies at times. As for the 22 or so dogs who played Marley well director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) should get a medal handling all that canine behavior. He manages to manipulate the camera to get the just the right “worst dog in the world” moments with Marley. Or he may have just pointed the camera at the dog and let the dog handler yell “Go for it!” Either way the dog tugs at your heartstrings. But audiences should know Marley & Me isn’t just a movie about the life and times of an adorable dog contrary to how the studio is marketing it. This is about a marriage and family and all the ups and downs that entails -- and how a beloved pet can be an integral part. If you plan on bringing young kids be warned it might not be a life lesson they need to learn just yet.
September 27, 2002 10:25am EST
Ben and JoJo Floss' daughter Diana is gunned down only days before her wedding when she accidentally gets in the way of a violent husband-and-wife dispute at a Cape Anne Mass. restaurant. Her fiancé Joe soon becomes a surrogate member of the Floss family and the three cope with their grief in various ways. JoJo attempts to avoid all the attention that is being paid the family and Ben throws himself--and Joe--into a commercial real estate venture that needs big-time developer Mike's support to succeed. Joe meanwhile combs through big bins of undelivered mail with postmaster Bertie in an effort to retrieve the 75 wedding invitations that had been sent. Bertie who in addition to her postal work also helps out in the local bar owned by her missing-in-'Nam-action beau is also grieving and soon she and Ben are a couple. As writer-director Brad Silberling's gentle drama unfolds it becomes clear that the film is a "hundred-whys" effort. For a start why is the film titled Moonlight Mile a lesser-known Rolling Stones song? It's never explained. And why does the film take place in 1973 when only the film's rollicking soundtrack and a passing reference to the Vietnam War evoke the era? These questions--and the many many other whys in Moonlight Mile--remain unanswered resulting in a film that falls as flat as a bad souffle.
The actors in Moonlight Mile for example are among the choicest of ingredients--three Oscar winners a promising newcomer and an almost legendary comic talent. So why is young Jake Gyllenhaal so bland as the sweet hero-fiancé Joe so opaque and passive suggesting nothing of a background education or professional aspirations? Why did talented Oscar winners Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon agree to star as the parents except for the fact that each actor is given the chance to sink his or her teeth into an 11th hour set piece? Why do Oscar winner Holly Hunter (as the tough prosecuting attorney Mona who warns Joe Ben and JoJo that there's a good chance the perpetrator will get off lightly) and comic virtuoso Dabney Coleman (as gruff real estate developer Mike) squander their talents?
Part of the answer to all the whys Moonlight Mile raises can be found in Silberling's direction. He clearly knows the ingredients Hollywood seems to want these days: nice recognizable characters in emotionally wrenching situations; some resonance of a bygone period; a soundtrack that will help with the marketing; big-name leads and a compelling young star; a dash of unpredictability and feel-good ending. But as Silberling mixes up this all-too-familiar recipe his strokes create a thin watery batter that just refuses to rise above cliché. As a writer he knows the rules but he skirts wit irony humor and convincing raw emotion in favor of the formula raising more questions than he answers.