Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli, Amanda Michalka, Jake Abel, Reece Ritchie
RunTime: 2 hrs 15 mins
Released By: UIP
Rating: PG (Some Disturbing Scenes)
Official Website: http://www.lovelybones.com/
Opening Day: 18 March 2010
Based on the critically acclaimed best-selling novel by Alice Sebold, and directed by Oscar winner Peter Jackson from a screenplay by Jackson & Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens, "The Lovely Bones" centers on a young girl who has been murdered and watches over her family - and her killer - from heaven. She must weigh her desire for vengeance against her desire for her family to heal. Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg and Oscar winners Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon star along with Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli and Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan.
Alice Sebold’s bestseller “The Lovely Bones” deals with the rape, murder and dismemberment of a 14-year-old girl called Susie Salmon. Naturally, as we are, her dad, mom, grandma, sister and brother are devastated. While they search for answers and clues to the horrific crime, Susie watches, caught between heaven and earth, as her killer roams undetected amidst her quiet, peaceful suburban neighbourhood.
Sebold’s premise could have been the premise of a suspense thriller about the search for Susie’s murderer; or an emotional drama about her family’s struggle to cope with her passing. In the hands of Sebold however, the novel was at once both, but without the tension or despair of either. Using Susie as a beyond-the-grave narrator, Sebold’s story was filled with warmth, optimism and yes, gentle humour even.
One should understand what the book was- for watching Peter Jackson’s adaptation, you wouldn’t quite know what exactly the film is trying to say. Indeed, Jackson and his frequent script collaborators, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, have created a wildly uneven product that messes up the themes and the nuances that were so important in Sebold’s novel. Their film is almost a fragmentation of three separate pieces glued together with little coherence and continuity, jarring and ultimately unfulfilling.
Let’s start with the first piece- the murder of Susie Salmon. Here Jackson shows, with quieting discomfort, Susie, a 1973 teen who wants a date with the cute English guy in school, getting lured by middle-aged neighbour George Harvey (Stanley Tucci in an effectively unsettling performance) into a trap set in the middle of a barren patch of land as she is walking home from school. While Jackson doesn’t show the murder in graphic terms, it is both gripping and disturbing to watch.
The abrupt shift in tone begins right after Susie’s death. The afterlife, as imagined by Jackson, becomes a series of vast breathtaking CGI landscapes. As dazzling as it is to see shifting mountains, swirling moons and whitewashed gazebos set against a deep blue starry night sky, Jackson’s rendition of the “in-between” as visual amazements just doesn’t sit well with the bleakness of the first third of the movie- is Jackson trying to say that the afterlife is more beautiful than life itself?
That visual indulgence goes one step further when Jackson shows the connection between Susie’s netherworld and that of her loved ones here on earth. When her dad (Mark Wahlberg) overwhelmed with grief smashes his collection of tiny ships in bottles, Susie sees that same collection in life size smashing against some imaginary shore she is walking on. When things go well with the family, Susie sees a tree blooming in the middle of a hyper-green pasture. Yes, with that kind of literalness, there isn’t anything very subtle about how Jackson goes about his film.
So what is in fact the crux of Sebold’s book becomes relegated to the last third of the film- the forgiveness, reconciliation and moving on that cements the relationships between the people whom Susie left behind with her passing. Jackson’s scramble to include as much as possible that was in the book causes the film to feel rushed and overcrowded- dad distances himself, mom moves out, grandma (Susan Sarandon) moves in and starts to rebuild the family again. It is too little and too late, and Jackson should wisely have foregone the dazzling imagery in the middle to build these emotional connections more.
What Jackson doesn’t mess up is the casting of his lead actress, Saoirse Ronan. Ronan as Susie Salmon brings an ethereal quality to her character that is heartbreaking and mesmerizing to watch. She is the heart of the film, and Ronan gives her best all the time to a difficult role that she gets right for the most part. Pity then her performance was lost amidst a film that delights in showcasing its visual glory.
You would not know watching the film why Sebold’s book was titled “The Lovely Bones” until near the end when Susie explains its significance. Yes, “The Lovely Bones” refers to the relationships, the connections and the ties that were forged between these people following Susie’s absence. By the time Susie explains it to her audience, Jackson’s film only feels like a missed opportunity, an indulgence in a blast of CGI imagery that did no favours to Sebold’s hauntingly beautiful story.
(There’s no denying Peter Jackson’s visual prowess, but this adaptation loses the emotions and the nuances of Sebold’s beautifully written prose)
Review by Gabriel Chong