The Lovely Bones

Will Peter Jackson ever come down to earth? On the evidence of his new film The Lovely Bones, adapted from Alice Sebold’s bestseller, I very much doubt it. After his Lord of the Rings films and King Kong, Jackson now seems to want to live inside the world of his computer-effects company WETA, where anything is possible. But if any story didn’t call for show-stopping eye candy, it’s Sebold’s. The Lovely Bones is narrated by Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, from Atonement), a fourteen-year-old murdered by a fastidious madman (Stanley Tucci, in a rare bad performance). Susie is bound for Heaven, but she can’t make it there quite yet; she has to let go of her old life, let go of the family that mourns her and the perv who killed her.

This material was once slated for Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar) to direct, and I would’ve loved to have seen what an artist with Ramsay’s matter-of-fact command of lyricism would’ve done with it. Instead we get Jackson, who in the 21 years since his freewheeling debut Bad Taste has apparently morphed into a bloviating schlockmeister. (I blame his Oscar wins; Oscar has killed the taste and sense of many another filmmaker.) In Jackson’s hands, The Lovely Bones — admittedly gorgeous to behold (Andrew Lesnie did the cinematography) — becomes a slightly sick blend of the banality of evil and the rhapsody of fantasy. Susie wanders through some sort of limbo, or inbetween-land, where the landscape and climate change from moment to moment, and that’s a fair assessment of the overall film, which never strikes or sustains a consistent mood.

You know Jackson’s not working seriously when he coaches poor Stanley Tucci to play Susie’s murderer as a textbook creep whom anyone could see through. Susie’s parents (Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg) go through their grief at a remove from us; nothing and nobody truly moves us. Susan Sarandon drops in for a few scenes as Susie’s free-spirited grandma — too free-spirited, considering she’s lost a grandchild — but Sarandon brings some life even to the clichéd montage of Grandma trying to clean house but instead wrecking it. Indeed, The Lovely Bones contains more awful scenes than any film by a gifted director in recent memory, especially the one in which Wahlberg, suspecting Tucci, follows him into a nearby cornfield with a baseball bat.

Susie’s sister (Rose McIver) also suspects Tucci, and one day she sneaks into his house looking for evidence. As she snoops around, and Tucci arrives home, Jackson draws out the suspense tiresomely, and Susie herself disappears from the movie for a long stretch. We feel manipulated by the jolly New Zealander, who even stages a love scene between Susie (temporarily possessing the body of a psychic goth girl — don’t even ask) and her school crush while a safe containing her body is being dumped. The Lovely Bones says that it’s okay if girls get raped and murdered (no rape is mentioned in the film, unlike the book) as long as there’s a golden dusky Heaven awaiting them, along with the ghosts of other murdered children, while sappy New Age music plays. Jackson gets lost in heavenly visual possibilities and lets everything else go to hell.

Explore posts in the same categories: adaptation, drama, fantasy, one of the year's worst

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