Marley and Me: Pennsylvania Apple Crisp Recipe

Year Released: 2008

Directed by: David Frankel

Starring: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Alan Arkin, Eric Dane

(PG, 120 min.)

"A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of." Ogden Nash

Marley is the “world’s worst dog.” We’ve all known a few. That’s why this story of unconditional love is the reverse of what we generally say about dogs. Here it is the humans who put the “un” in unconditional.

Let’s face it. Most couples would have returned the “clearance puppy” to the breeder once they discovered it could eviscerate the entire contents of their garage in less time than it takes the girls on “The View” to do the same to one of their guests.

Would you have waited patiently, hose in hand, for a treasured locket to work its way through the organic infrastructure of the lout who swallowed it? Or taken it in stride when he body slams the obedience instructor just before making “doggie love" to her leg? Okay, the instructor is Kathleen Turner, so how could he resist, except that the husky voice now is not a sultry come on, but the authoritative bark of a drill sergeant with the beefy body and bad attitude to go along with it. Well, on second thought, maybe Marley redeems himself a little here. But you get my point.

In fact, I’ve had three Marleys, or it has taken three 80-pound Weimaraners to even come close to Marley’s accomplishments. My first did devour the sofa a la the titular Labrador, but my second actually outdid him in the storm paranoia category. Marley whined, moaned and ate things when the weather turned, while my lovely was much more creative, jumping the fence and running to the nearest traffic intersection to freeze in utter panic. Once he even boarded a city bus during the throes of his terror. My third is more high tech, content to nibble his way through remote controls, DVDs, and computer flash drives, although he has never worked up to Marley’s stature in “ eating the answering machine and having the phone for dessert.” And just today, on several occasions, he has aptly demonstrated the deep truth of the Ogden Nash quote above.

That’s it, I think. We’ve all been there. Even if you’ve never owned a dog, you probably have been witness or maybe even victim to some of their outrageous shenanigans. But just to be sure we all can relate, the film, based on the memoir of journalist John Grogan, brings in plenty of human characters as well.

One is his first boss, a curmudgeon newspaper editor played superbly by Alan Arkin. He brings the same deadpan cynicism to the part that won him a supporting Oscar in 2007 for the highly overrated Little Miss Sunshine. Here he is merely cantankerous and witty, not the lewd caricature of decadence Hollywood and the critics thought so hilarious in that film. In fact, he is the kind of boss ink-stained wretches dream of, what Roger Ebert labels “escapist porn” for writers. Not only does he offer cub reporter Grogan (Owen Wilson) a column, but when he demurs, double salary as well. 

Eric Dane plays Sebastian, John’s college friend and fellow journalist, a carefree bachelor who jets off to high risk reporting and seems to capture promotions as easily as the next beauty’s heart. His is the idealized life we all seem to measure against our own, which cannot help but fall short in comparison, no matter what the actual truth beyond the ideal.

Jennifer Aniston is Jenny Grogran, a journalist in her own right, and initially one with some juicier assignments than her spouse, but she decides to become a stay at home mom, and the film deals fairly realistically with the joys and stress of motherhood as well as the twinges of regret on leaving a challenging and successful career behind. Sure, she’s a bit on edge with the first two in diapers, Marley on the prowl, and living a life of moderate to extreme sleep deprivation. But even if she does at times make Grogan feel like he as well as Marley belongs in the doghouse, it’s that part of parenting every one of us has been through. She’s also warm, generous, and totally in love with him, and their scenes together have a nice chemistry.

Owen Wilson shines as John Grogan. There’s more a Jimmy Stewart quality in his affable charm now, and it is not too much of a stretch to see some similarities to that Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Of course, I’m not putting Marley and Me in the same category, quality wise – this is a movie about a big lumbering dogzilla that eats his way through most of South Florida before he takes on Eastern Pennsylvania –but there’s the same wistful longing for lost adventure, the same niggling doubts about practical sacrifice for family responsibility that irk both men to a degree. That wonderful angel in training Clarence has to earn his wings by reminding poor George Bailey the import of those sacrifices, while Grogan finds his way in long solitary talks with Marley. And of course, there is no better listener than a dog.

Perhaps you could even say that Marley earns his wings as well.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

After Marley has eaten his way through most of South Florida, John Grogan departs for a new job in Pennsylvania. I mean, there are hardly any sofas left in tact on the whole Atlantic shore down there, so the move is almost mandatory.

Both Grogan and Marley come into their own here. John finally gets to do the real reporting he has always longed for, and Marley can lumber through the golden wheat fields next to their house, chew his way through the adjacent woods, and knock over as many snowmen as he pleases.

Of course, Uptopia really means “not a place,” so don’t look for your typical Disney happy ending. But do enjoy the romp in the beauty there, and like a dog, savor every moment of joy as if there were no tomorrow. Marley certainly does.

I’m sure he would have enjoyed this Pennsylvania Dutch favorite, Apple Crisp. Perhaps not as filling as sofa cushions, but definitely tastier. And a perfect ending for an equally crisp winter night.

Pennsylvania Apple Crisp


  • 3 cups sliced apples
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375° F. Arrange apple slices in an 8-inch square baking dish. Combine flour, sugar and butter. Mix with hands until small lumps form. Add nuts and sprinkle over apples. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until apples are tender and top is lightly browned. Serve warm or room temperature.

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