The Lovely Bones
, based on Alice Sebold's 2002 book, deals with 14-year-old Susie Salmon (the luminescent Saoirse Ronan from Atonement
), who is murdered on December 6, 1973. She is also raped and dismembered, but the movie doesn't share that information from the novel. The hook of the story is that it is narrated by Susie herself from the afterlife. It's a good hook. Horrific murders are much easier to deal with when the victim talks to you.
Lord of the Rings
filmmaker Peter Jackson's adaptation is a mess, but it pushed enough emotional buttons to move me. Right after the screening, my reaction to the drama was more positive than negative. Since then, my opinion has shifted a bit. I still respect the unique narrative point of view, the production's ability to touch me, and some of the performances, but man, the bad stuff really sticks in my noggin.
Susie isn't ready to let go of this world, so she lingers in some otherworldly in-between place. Fine, but Jackson insists on illustrating it with trippy computer-generated images that are more distracting than evocative. I admire the boldness of doing anything visually that might make people think of the glopfest What Dreams May Come
, but the limbo scenes would have been powerful had Jackson simply focused on the kid and placed some generic scenery in the background.
The tone of the film is appropriately grim, with Susie's parents (Mark Wahlberg, doing his line readings in the same sort of thin, breathy voice he employed back in the days before we discovered he really could act, and Rachel Weisz meh) grieving and obsessing and grieving and obsessing. Jackson captures that well, but his insistence on trying to make the film into a suspense thriller with a dash of Sixth Sense
supernatural intervention is jarring and silly.
Michael Imperioli is solid as a sympathetic detective dealing with the family, as is Rose McIver as Susie's sister, but the stand-outs here are Ronan, who has great screen presence, and Stanley Tucci as a creepy neighbor. He's extremely effective, even if he gets more screen time than necessary. And then there's Susan Sarandon, playing down-to-earth boozy Grandma, who moves in to try and make the parents stop moping so much. Poor Susan's performance is embarrassing apparently she was told to play the character as a cross between Auntie Mame and Ma Kettle.
Sorry, I realize that reference was a little Dennis Miller-ish, but I'm confident that the 11 percent of you that get it will appreciate it.
I wish Lovely Bones
had focused more on the dynamics between the grieving parents and their surviving daughter and less on vacuous special effects. I haven't read the book, but I plan to because I'm sure there is something more going on than what Peter Jackson offers us here. The film is moving, but the impact is dissipated by Jackson's visual hijinks and thematic hopscotch. This is an intimate story nearly smothered by its large, clumsy production.
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