The Lovely Bones (Paramount Pictures, PG-13)

lovely2.jpgAnd yet. The end result of all those people’s talents and labors is film which is often visually striking but emotionally baffling, and ultimately seems stuck in the same sort of purgatory as its young heroine.

the-lovely-bones-001.jpg

The Lovely Bones has so many ingredients which seem to promise success. It’s based on an acclaimed novel by Alice Sebold, and adapted by the same team (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens) who successfully brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy to cinematic life. Director Jackson proved that he could translate the imaginary world of two teenage girls to the screen in his 1994 film Heavenly Creatures, and for The Lovely Bones was able to attract an all-star cast including Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon.

And yet. The end result of all those people’s talents and labors is film which is often visually striking but emotionally baffling, and ultimately seems stuck in the same sort of purgatory as its young heroine. Is it meant to be a prestige picture dealing with Big Ideas, a supernatural thriller by a director who began his career making splatter films, or teen-and-tween fodder for the Twilight crowd? It has elements of all three but ends up being none of them, resulting in an annoying film which is mainly a waste of everyone’s time and money, the audience included.

The best thing about The Lovely Bones is Saoirse Ronan, who proves that her performance in Atonement was no fluke. Here she plays 14-year-old Susie Salmon, whose life as a high school freshman in small-town Pennsylvania comes to an abrupt end when she is gruesomely murdered by her nutcase of a neighbor (Tucci). That’s not a spoiler; we learn in the opening narration that Susie’s already dead and watching over her family from some intermediate place between earth and heaven. When she’s on screen the film at least has focus; it’s when she’s absent that it really gets into trouble.

Susie’s family is terribly upset, of course: Mom (Weisz) deserts her family to become an itinerant fruit picker (even in 1973, that’s carrying the hippie thing a bit too far), while Dad (Wahlberg) seeks revenge and keeps pestering the detective assigned to the case (Michael Imperioli) to continue the investigation. Her sister attempts a little investigation on her own, creating one of the few involving sequences in the entire film. Susie watches all this from her CGI-enhanced limbo; although they don’t fit with the rest of the film taking place on planet Earth, the scenes in this between-world are stunningly beautiful and the best thing about The Lovely Bones.

I’m baffled by the praise Tucci has received for his performance. His physical transformation is amazing, but as far as I’m concerned he’s in full psycho mode from the first time we see him, which raises the question of why an apparently level-headed kid like Susie would allow herself to be tempted to visit his underground lair in the first place. Wahlberg does the most he can with the role allotted him, while Sarandon is wasted as Susie’s loud-mouth drunk of a grandmother who seems to have wandered in from another film.

Nowhere is this film’s ineptitude shown in brighter relief than in its conclusion: Susie is avenged by an event every bit as logical as the lightning strike which disposes of dear little Rhoda in Bad Seed. Yes, I know it’s in the novel, but on screen it’s simply hilarious and the screenwriting team should have known better, especially since they’ve made other material changes in Sebold’s original story. At least in 1958 we could lay blame on the MPAA code which allowed no onscreen evil to go unpunished; Jackson has no such excuses. | Sarah Boslaugh

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply