Marley & Motherhood.

*Warning, Marley & Me spoilers ahead.*


If you go by its national advertising campaign, you’d think that the Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson vehicle Marley & Me is simply about an ill-behaved dog scampering around and destroying their furniture while they engage in wholesome slapstick amidst the wreckage left in the pooch’s wake. But in between the mushy, heart-rending canine moments, there’s a moms-and-work storyline that seems to have slipped in under the radar which, frankly, surprised me because I hadn’t seen that aspect of the film highlighted in reviews.


The movie commenced on John and Jenny Grogan’s wedding night. The two newspaper reporters decided they’d start their marriage by moving to West Palm Beach, Florida where they got jobs at rival newspapers and bought a house. Once they settled in and Jenny had an itch to start a family, John, on the advice of his reporter buddy, bought her a dog. Cue an impossibly cute yellow lab puppy. Commence with the multitude of scenes dramatizing how Marley grew to be 100 pounds and became so uncontrollable that he got tossed out of a dog obedience school by a tough trainer played by an amusing Kathleen Turner.


Things, however, got a bit tricky when children entered the picture, something I didn’t expect. After having a baby, Jenny was, at first, able to continue working and writing some of her stories from home. But by the time she was pregnant with kid number two, she decided she wanted to leave the paper because the baby-work juggle was taking its toll on her. Her husband, a fellow reporter, couldn’t believe she’d leave a job she loved.


“I do, I love my job, but this is killing me,” said a frustrated Jenny who complained she didn’t want to put in half efforts at work and at home. It was never made clear whether her newspaper would’ve afforded her a part-time option. Her mind seemed set on staying home.


With only one income and another baby on the way, John reluctantly took a higher paying job writing columns which enabled them to move to bigger home in a nicer neighborhood. While Marley chewed up pricey fabric samples, tensions in the Grogan house increased. The new baby was colicky and couldn’t sleep because Marley kept barking and waking him up at all hours, that was when the dog wasn’t busy knocking their toddler to the ground. Plus, Jenny never got a break because no babysitter would come to their house due to Marley’s bad reputation.


In one tense scene, the baby was crying non-stop when John tried to soothe his wife by saying the baby would eventually grow out of his colic.


“Why don’t you stay home, and I’ll go to work until he grows out of it?” Jenny shouted.


leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

What struck me as fascinating is that Jenny's "inner mommy wars" dilemmas were not part of the book. She was a pretty flat character as Grogan originally wrote her. But in the movie she is SO real. Making her "real" added true heart and heft to the movie. Jenny is the center of the movie, in my mind, not Marley. Hollywood is catching on that women want to see (more) realistic views of motherhood (Jen's toned yoga arms and super flat tum aside) on the big screen.


Sounds odd to compare a child to an unruly dog, but this dilemma (“Plus, Jenny never got a break because no babysitter would come to their house due to Marley’s bad reputation.”) is similar to what happens when a family has a special-needs child: no typical daycare accepts such children and it would be difficult (and expensive) to find a qualified-enough nanny. So one parent typically ends up staying home. I mention this because the feeling of being “trapped” might be similar – definitely a heftier theme than what the movie trailers imply!