The Lovely Bones
Runtime: 2 hr 15 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Saoirse Ronan, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Amanda Michalka, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli, Rose McIver
Jackson gives the novel’s rich tapestry of complex characters and relationships short shrift, instead focusing on the cinematic possibilities of Susie’s afterlife.
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 3 years ago
Directed by Peter Jackson, THE LOVELY BONES is one long bad trip of a movie – perhaps the most disastrous film adaptation of a major American novel since Brian De Palma brought Tom Wolfe’s THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES to the screen. Frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t work, because if anything this project seemed to represent the ideal marriage of a filmmaker and his source material.
Alice Sebold’s beloved 2002 novel told the story of Susie Salmon, who at the age of 14 is raped and murdered by a man from her neighborhood. She goes to a place she calls “my Heaven”, where she can see what happens in her absence down on Earth. Narrated by Susie, the novel struck a perfect balance between fantastical sequences and everyday life as it’s lived in the wake of unspeakable tragedy. Unfortunately, the movie does no such thing. Jackson gives the novel’s rich tapestry of complex characters and relationships short shrift, instead focusing on the cinematic possibilities of Susie’s afterlife.
That might not come as a surprise to fans of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and 2005’s KING KONG, who see Jackson as basically a fantasy/special-effects director. But for those familiar with the Kiwi filmmaker’s earlier work, the nonstop CGI spectacle of THE LOVELY BONES will come as a major letdown.
Jackson once showed a flair for telling true crime stories with supernatural elements. In HEAVENLY CREATURES, the highly imaginative inner worlds of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme were brought vividly to life, and this helped explain the girls’ ultimate decision to commit matricide. In similar fashion, THE FRIGHTENERS worked equally well as a ghost story and a portrait of a serial killer. Unfocused and tone deaf, THE LOVELY BONES is more of a hodgepodge.
Still, it starts off great. The first 30 minutes are relatively faithful to the novel. We see Susie (Saoirse Ronan) falling for a boy named Ray (Reece Ritchie) and spending time at the mall with her grandmother (Susan Sarandon). During the scene where her killer, Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci, quite good at playing a sociopath), lures her to a cellar he’s built beneath a cornfield, I found myself wanting to yell a word of warning at the screen – usually a good sign that a film is working. Their final scene together, with Mr. Harvey soaking in a bloody, mud-caked bathtub, is the film’s sole claim to indelibility.
The problems arise when Jackson and his screenwriters, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, stray from the novel – what they add and subtract. The afterlife scenes, though visually spectacular, are pretty atrocious. We don’t know very much about Susie, and so the things she sees in her Heaven are inexplicable to us. And, quite frankly, it’s just plain weird to see her having the time of her life when only 20 minutes of screen time have passed since her brutal murder.
But the absolute worst is what the movie leaves out. Viewers who haven’t read the book will be utterly perplexed when Susie’s mom (Rachel Weisz) leaves her family and heads off to California wine country. And don’t even get me started on how little screen time is spent on the blossoming of Susie’s younger sister (Rose McIver), or the bond Ray forms with a bohemian girl named Ruth (Carolyn Dando), or Mr. Harvey’s troubled childhood, or…. Jackson has gotten so sloppy with the theatrical cuts of his films that maybe all of this material will be featured on an extended edition DVD. One can only hope.
As is, THE LOVELY BONES is solidly shot and acted, especially by Ronan and Tucci. (Though Mark Wahlberg is terrible as Susie’s dad; did M. Night Shyamalan rob Wahlberg of his acting talent when they worked together on THE HAPPENING?) It’s also a square Christian morality tale – something I would have never expected from the man responsible for 1989’s MEET THE FEEBLES, in which lewd puppets sang a song called “Sodomy.” Twenty years and a few billion dollars later, Jackson has made a misguided attempt to draw comfort from a story that has precious little to offer.