Review: ‘The Lovely Bones’

lovely-bones-mark-whalberg

Shortly after I read The Lovely Bones in 2002, I started hearing rumblings that it was being optioned for a movie. My immediate reaction was “Why?” The emotionally devastating novel about the rape and murder of a fourteen year old seemed like dubious source material. The murdered girl resides in a self imposed ethereal limbo-land between heaven and earth for most of the book, making it logistical nightmare to film. I just didn’t understand how a filmmaker could pull it off.

In the case of director Peter Jackson, he couldn’t, and he didn’t. Jackson worked his magic with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he is woefully out of his element here. The most shocking thing about seeing the film is that it is completely devoid of any emotion or warmth, the very characteristics that made the book so beloved. So much consideration is given to unnecessary special effects (that don’t even look good) that the crucial human interactions are lost, and that is a true pity. If you take those away, there is no reason to see this movie.

Oscar-nominee Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) plays Susie Salmon, who disappears on her way home from school one day. A nerdy and harmless looking neighbor, Mr. Harvey, lures Susie to a root-cellar like building in the middle of a field with the sheepish confession he has built a playhouse for the neighborhood kids. Susie feels honored to be the first child to see the playhouse, but she is ultimately raped, murdered, and dismembered in the claustrophobic dwelling.

Initially, she is not aware that she is dead, because she can see and hear her loved ones, as well as Mr. Harvey. She spends the next several years watching her family mature and change, particularly her older sister, who is falling in love for the first time. It is a rare poignant moment, because Susie longs to experience those typical teenage milestones that she has been so cruelly denied.

Jackson tries to straddle the line between murder-mystery and fantasy, but it just doesn’t work. Murder-mystery movies are a dime a dozen, and this one doesn’t have anything compelling enough to drive the movie, especially since we know who the killer is from the beginning. The fantasy sequences of the “in between” are poorly executed, and the set pieces are just horrible.

They look plastic and gaudy, and better suited to a Willy Wonka movie than an emotionally haunting story. I have no idea how this movie consumed a $100 million budget.

Casting is also a disaster. Ryan Gosling was originally cast as Susie’s father, but was replaced because he did not look old enough (I love Ryan Gosling, but I agree whole-heartedly with that decision.) However, he was replaced by Mark Wahlberg, who just didn’t convince me as the grieving father.

Rachel Weisz is criminally underused as the mother, and almost every bit of her story arc is stripped from the movie. Also missing: the relationship between psychic teenager Clarissa and Susie’s spirit. That pretty much leaves the sprawling two hour running time filled with far too many scenes in the fabricated heaven.

There is one bit of inspired casting. Stanley Tucci is very effective as Mr. Harvey. His performance is quite chilling, and destined to give many parents nightmares.

I rarely tell people not to see a movie, but if you read the book, you are flat out going to be disappointed, if not puzzled. I think that this is a case of a complete misinterpretation of the source material by a director. Jackson tackled a story that really should have been left alone. If you loved the book, skip the movie and read the book again.

  • Shannon Hood
    January 15, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    @Stu

    Thanks for your comment. I am really glad to hear the opinion of someone who did not read the book, and enjoyed the movie. I think that is the only way to enjoy the movie. You have to be divorced from the source material.

    The book was such a rarity, in that it resonated so deeply with everyone who read it. There were some big shoes to fill for Mr. Jackson.

  • Shannon Hood
    January 15, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    @LC
    Now I feel terrible. My mom called me today and told me that I “broke her heart” because of the review. If you do go see the movie, please let me know what you think, especially since you just read the book. I read it over seven years ago…

  • Stu
    January 15, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    After watching the movie tonight. I think it was well done. Yes some of the support characters were under developed, but i was more interested what Susie was seeing, watching and thinking throughout the movie which came across clear.

    I havent read the original book and dont intend to. So this movie was good, it had a different spin on the usual murder mystery, with the story being told by the dead girl. Yeah I sure the book would be better, if they added all the extras. I read the wiki cliff notes.

    But well done.

  • LC
    January 15, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Thats just sad… I finished the book one day before the movie came out, and now I am scared to see it:(

  • Jimmy
    January 15, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Rachel Weisz and most of the cast had most of their scenes left on the cutting room floor, That’s why the movie turn out so bad.

    • Shannon Hood
      January 15, 2010 at 2:22 pm

      @Jimmy,
      I don’t find that surprising at all.

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