The movie starts out with a scene of a boy walking with his dog in a field. We hear John Grogan (Owen Wilson) talking about the relationships between a boy and his dog. Suddenly, we see a large dog jump over a fence and run through the boy as John chases after him.
The scene changes to John and his new wife Jenny (Jennifer Aniston). They are leaving their car, which stalled out in during a snowstorm, and they walk to a near hotel. While sitting in their room, Jenny ponders whether or not getting stuck in a snowstorm is a bad omen but decides that it isn’t. John stares at her and asks how he got so lucky to be married to her. Jenny jokes around saying that he is lucky but then explains how handsome, funny, etc. John is. She says that she is the one that was lucky to be married to such a great guy. They kiss and we leave them be.
John and Jenny are driving in Florida and they come upon the headquarters for the Sun-Sentinel, a newspaper at which John is applying for a job. We find out that Jenny has already been hired at another paper so John is really hoping to get the job. He goes into a meeting with Arnie Klein (Alan Arkin) the editor. Arnie asks why John moved to Florida and he said it was because his friend Sebastian (Eric Dane) spoke highly of the area. We see Sebastian goofing around in the background. When asked why he should get the job over all the other candidates, John says that he has a tendency to surprise people. He leaves the office and goes to the car where Jenny is anxiously waiting for him. He tells her that some guy already got the job and is working on an article. She gets upset but then he reveals that he’s that guy and got the job! As they drive away, John asks Jenny what’s next on her list (She has a list which basically sets out what’s next to do in their lives together). She says that they need a house now.
We see John go outside to get both of their newspapers from the lawn of their newly bought house. As he goes inside, we see them both examine their articles. John says his isn’t that great and it’s about something rather mediocre but Jenny’s is about some big tax ballot politics. We notice that Jenny seems to be further in her career than him. Jenny goes to the sink and is bothered about a plant of hers that died. She wonders how she can handle kids if she can’t even keep a plant alive. We go back to the office where John is talking to Sebastian about what Jenny said earlier. Sebastian suggests getting a dog and in particular, a “Labradoodle”. John asks if he means a Labrador, and Sebastian sheepishly agrees. We then see John and Jenny drive up to a house with dogs in the yard barking. She’s blindfolded and he guides her out of the car. A cranky woman greets them and brings them on the porch. John takes off the blindfold and Jenny sees a pen full of baby puppies. She’s ecstatic and climbs in with them. The woman lists the prices for boys and girls as one particular pup hops on Jenny. She says that they can have the puppy for $200, which is much cheaper than the others. Jenny dubs it her “clearance puppy”, until they find a proper name for it.
We switch to John bringing Jenny to the airport because she has to go travel for a news piece. On the way back, John is listening to Bob Marley while the “clearance puppy” sits in the passenger seat beside him. He asks the puppy if Bob was a good name, or Robert, and then settles on Marley. When they get home, we see John trying to feed Marley but he knocks over the bag of puppy chow and Marley eats it very fast. That night, there’s a thunderstorm and he puts Marley in a bed box in the garage. We find out that he doesn’t like thunderstorms and the puppy whines all night until John moves him into his room. Some time later, John is going to pick up Jenny from the airport and he puts the dog in the garage. When he and Jenny return, they see that the dog has wreaked havoc in it. Jenny isn’t mad at all and picks up the puppy to kiss him and make him feel better.
One day while Marley is in the house, he grabs Jenny’s underwear. Jenny chases him to the door where the screen stops him. Jenny and John laugh at this as he breaks through the screen door into the back yard. Jenny chases him as he goes through various neighbors’ yards. They show this progressively until it happens with Marley as a full-grown dog.
John and Jenny have a fight at one point over having a baby and it makes John feel bad. John and Sebastian are out on the boardwalk discussing the fight. Two girls see Marley and come over. Sebastian uses him as a way to get their attention. The girls are all over the dog and one asks to hold him. Then we see Marley look over at a flock of pigeons. He breaks free of the girls hold and chases after the birds. John, Sebastian, and the girls all chase after him as he runs down the beach. He stops at one point in the water as a very effeminate man tells them that they need to be more careful with their dog. It turns out that Marley ran onto a “dog beach” and if any dogs misbehave, the police will shut it down.
As a makeup gift for the fight, John goes out and buys her a gift as a makeup present (this was suggested by Sebastian). He gets her a really pretty gold necklace. As Jenny goes to give it top him to put on her, she realizes the necklace is gone. They look towards Marley and sure enough, it’s in his mouth. Jenny slowly crawls toward him as John creeps around to get Marley from behind. He knocks into a chair and this sends Marley running around the house. They chase and finally grab him, but he swallows the necklace. We see John spraying Marley poop in the backyard with a hose while saying that he didn’t foresee hosing down poop in his future. He tells Marley to stop eating Mangoes because apparently it makes his “business” even more unpleasant. Suddenly he spots the necklace and goes to pick it up.
John and Jenny go to a doggy obedience school to see if they can get a better hold over Marley. The woman in charge is rather intense and she asks them who’s the boss in the relationship. Jenny is so she’s the one who goes to train Marley. All the dogs and owners line up and they are told to make their dog’s heel. Every dog but Marley sits and he just goofs around. The teacher than says that John should take over and they try to walk the dogs. When it’s John’s turn, Marley breaks free and runs away. The woman blows her whistle and Marley come over and pounces her. She kicks Marley out of obedience school and John and Jenny joke that they have the worst dog in the world.
They decide to get Marley neutered in an attempt to make him less rowdy. On the drive Marley sticks his head out of the window. He gradually gets his entire body out of the car until John is only holding on to his legs. Marley walks along the road on two feet, while the car is still driving as Jenny tries to pull over. When they do, they wrangle Marley back into the car.
At one point John decides that he’s willing to be a father so he and Jenny try to have a baby. One day while he’s out for lunch, Sebastian tells him that he recently got a job to do a huge New York Times article. John had recently been promoted to being a columnist but he wanted to be a reporter. Sebastian invites John to write it with him and John is thrilled. Just then he gets a call from Jenny saying that see needs him home right away. It turns out that Jenny is pregnant and they are ecstatic.
We see them at her doctor’s office and they are prepping to see the baby. As the nurse starts the ultrasound, she stops suddenly and gets the doctor. He tells Jenny that she had a miscarriage. She’s distraught as John brings her home. When they get inside, John tries to distract her from the matter at hand by talking about going to Ireland for their honeymoon. They never used the tickets his parents gave to them. Jenny just sits on the couch crying as Marley puts his head in her lap, subdued for the first time since they’ve had him.
A while later they decide go to Ireland leaving Marley in the care of a dog sitter. They give the sitter, a teenage woman, a notebook describing him as the hesitant girl watches them leave. Immediately Marley freaks out and starts eating a couch. There’s a montage of scenes in which John and Jenny are exploring Ireland peacefully, and we see the sitter trying to take charge of Marley as he bites, eats, and destroys everything in his path. John and Jenny go to a bed and breakfast where a strongly religious woman shows them to their room. She explains how her brother died in a fire in that very room but they remodeled everything. Inside the room are pictures of Jesus and Mary in various forms. On top of that, the beds are separate and very creaky so they don’t want to fool around. As they’re going to sleep, Jenny says she’s cold. John leaves his bed and goes into hers. She says she’s ready to be intimate again (she wasn’t for a long time because of the miscarriage). We hear the beds creaking as the scene changes.
When they return from the trip, the house is a mess. The sitter comes out and roughly shoves the Marley manual in their hands. She storms off after saying that Marley was no real dog, “he was evil with a dogs face”. It turns out there were eleven thunderstorms while they were gone so you can imagine how much Marley acted up.
We find out that Jenny is pregnant. Nine months pass and we see her sleeping with Marley pacing around the house as usual. Suddenly, she wakes up and goes into labor. John helps her pack up all their stuff for the night and Marley eats open the box for a baby carrier to help John. They throw a bone to distract Marley and leave. Marley eats the bone over the course of some time and we see John come home. He talks to Marley saying how there’s a baby coming home and that he shouldn’t be surprised. Jenny puts the baby on the kitchen table and Marley almost pounces it in excitement but they block him down. John jokes that the baby, named Conor, isn’t a chew toy even though he looks like one.
From there we see the house get messier due to the baby. John and Jenny both talk about how now no one can really prepare for a child and how much work it is. Jen is constantly stressed out over him. One day when John gets back from walking Marley he sees Jenny in the bathroom by the sink. She says that she pregnant again. He asks if she’s sure and she shows him 4 pregnancy sticks. They welcome the second baby named Patrick. Jenny becomes increasingly busy dealing with the kids. She snaps at John a lot over tiny things. She says that she’s going to quit work because she doesn’t want to juggle motherhood and her job. She doesn’t want be one of those mothers who hire a nanny and never sees their kids. John asks his boss if he can have a raise due to being the only source of income and he’s granted it. His column is being read by many people who love his stories of Marley and all of his shenanigans. Jenny becomes pregnant again and we see the John, Conor, and Patrick greet her and the new baby at the hospital. Patrick says that it’s the “whoops baby” and John says that it was supposed to be a joke. The baby is named Colleen and she’s their first girl.
One night when they are home and the kids are asleep, John and Jenny hear a scream. He tells her to call the police and she does while he runs outside. A girl next door was stabbed. He sits with her while they wait for an ambulance to come. She’s only a teenager and she said that a man told her that if she screamed, he would stab her. John asks her name and she says that her name is Lisa. The next day John asks one of the men at the office what the safest neighborhood was around them. He said the safest was an area called Boca. John goes over to an open house there and brings Marley along. The dog runs out of the car and into the pool disrupting a tour that was presently going on. Later on at their new house, we see John walk up the driveway as he did earlier in the movie, this time only getting one paper. The new house is bigger but Jenny is still overwhelmed with the baby. Marley is running around and eating everything thing and she gets mad at John for not walking him. Later Marley is actually quiet for once and Jenny lies down on the bed for a moment of well-deserved rest. A truck is heard backing up down the road and Marley jumps up and ruins the blinds trying to see it. He also runs into one of the kids knocking him over. John says that Jenny might be suffering from postpartum depression but she denies it. She says she’s just very stressed out. She then tells John that Marley needs to leave and that she wants him to go back to the animal farm. John says that this was no way to fix the problem and refuses to do that.
The next day he brings Marley over to Sebastian’s house so that he can watch him for two days. John notices that there are a lot of boxes filled with packed things and asks if Sebastian is moving. It turns out that Sebastian was offered a job at the New York Times and was going to take it. This makes John reflect on his own Job and how it was not going to his expectations.
When John brings Marley to walk at the dog beach, he realizes that he trusts Marley enough to unleash her. He does and she runs into the ocean. Other owners follow suit and the dogs are all playing out in the water. One woman yells at John to stop Marley. We see her getting in position to go bathroom in the ocean. John runs to stop her but he’s too late. Everyone glares at him and right away a police truck comes onto the beach. They saw what Marley did the one time John let her off.
John and his family are in the pool with Marley playing water basketball (Colleen is still to young to be in the pool and is in a baby seat outside of it). The phone rings and John goes to pick it up. A while ago he had sent some of his work to the Philadelphia Inquirer and they were calling to offer him a job. Jenny is a bit worried when he tells her this because she didn’t know he was even thinking about moving. He says that he wouldn’t meet with the people because he didn’t want to uproot their family.
John is getting a lot of praise for his columns. When he comes home after walking the dog, a surprise party greets him. There are many of his friends there and it’s very festive. They light the cake and John and his kids blow out the candles. Marley jumps up and eats some of the cake. After the party, John is left alone with Jenny out on their porch. She gives him her blessing to take the job in Philly because she knows that he’s not truly happy in Florida. John is packing up his things at the Sun when his boss comes out. He tells him that John did surprise him, and they have a sweet but funny moment.
John and his family are driving along a road in Pennsylvania as his kids are doing the “are you there yet” act. They pull up to a gorgeous old house with a huge front yard. As they get out to inspect it, Marley immediately runs up to the porch and knocks down a bird feeder, officially welcoming them home. The first morning that it snows, the kids wake up their parents by jumping on their beds. They’re very excited to go outside and play in snow for the first time. The whole family goes out and they have a snowball fight and make snow angels. Marley loves the snow just as much as all of them.
At work, the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer speaks to John about how his pieces are good, but he puts too much of himself in them. John is confused but thinks that maybe he really was destined to write as a columnist. When John comes home, he plays football with his kids and they all jump on him. Marley joins them but he walks up the porch stairs feebly. The kids get a little upset but John says that Marley is just tired.
When John is going to work one day, he sees Sebastian. It seems that he’s still working in New York. John shows him pictures of his kids and Sebastian is impressed that he made it this far. As John watches Sebastian leave, he sees him hitting on women in the street and we see that Sebastian hasn’t really changed in terms of settling down.
One rainy night Marley runs outside to go bathroom. When John goes to get him, Marley disappears. He gets Jenny and together they comb the yard, barn, and around the house but they can’t find him. Jenny goes back inside to be with the children. Conor says that one of the kids at school said that their beagle ran away to die alone. Jenny consoles him saying that its just beagles that do that. Meanwhile, John is still shouting for Marley. He goes to the end of his driveway and sees him across the street lying underneath a tree. As he runs over, Marley is whimpering and John feels his stomach, which causes Marley pain. He takes him to the vet who says that Marley's stomach turned. She says that almost 90% of dogs die if this happens, and that he could die that night. She also explains that if a stomach turns once, it may very well happen again. John says that the number may only apply to normal dogs. He insists that Marley is no normal dog explaining how he once ate an entire answering machine and then polished off the phone for desert. He also says that Marley guards the kids fully and is an amazing, extraordinary dog. He leaves Marley there for the night. He gets home to see Jenny looking over a clip book of his columns from Florida. She reminisces over them and says they would make a great book. The next day they receive a call that Marley survived the night and could come home. Though Marley is still wild, he doesn’t have as much energy as before. Even so, he waits for Conor and Patrick at the end of the driveway as they came home from school. They were anxious to see him because they hadn’t yet known whether or not he had survived the night. Conor reassures Patrick that Marley will always be there for them. John goes to work and asks the editor to think over having John write columns. He realizes that it’s what he really wants to do.
John is walking Marley in the same field we saw in the beginning of the movie, but he has trouble just walking up the hill. They sit together and watch the sunset and we see how much more subdued Marley is with old age.
When John and Jenny are going to bed one night, they call for Marley but he doesn’t come. They go downstairs to find him curled up next to the fireplace. John lies down next to him. They realize that he has twisted his stomach again. Jenny and the kids all kiss and say goodbye to Marley realizing that this is probably the last time that they’ll ever see him again. John takes him to the vet and it is confirmed that Marley twisted his stomach again. John goes outside to call Jenny and tell her that it was time to let him go. She asks whether or not he wants her there with him but he tells her that she should stay with the kids. He goes back inside and the vet gives him a few minutes alone with Marley. He tells Marley how he wasn’t the world’s worst dog, and all the times they said that they didn’t really mean it. He lets Marley know how much he meant to him and that he loves him. The vet comes back in and puts Marley to sleep as we see his eyes fade, then close.
John digs out a hole in the yard to put Marley in. He covers him in his favorite blanket and Jenny and the kids come out for the funeral. Colleen drew a picture of Marley and herself and had Jenny write that she hoped Marley would be happy in heaven. She put that in the grave with him. Patrick also wrote a brief eulogy and put that in with Marley. When it’s Conor’s turn to say something, he just says, “he knows”. Jenny says a little speech and then she and the kids go inside. John buries Marley and the film fades away.
During the credits, they show bits of family footage from the movie of Marley destroying things, playing with the kids, and just being happy. It was a touching end to a heartwarming movie.
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