The Lovely Bones
A Victim of Adaptation

Walking out of the advance screening of the adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones, I overheard a young woman comment: “That was so funny.”  I felt it was a rather odd reaction to a movie about a 14-year-old girl who is murdered by a serial killer, but I wrote it off figuring she was talking about a specific scene or moment of humor.  Then someone else made the exact same comment and I realized it was the perfect summation of a movie that never seems able to settle on a tone.

The story is told from beyond the grave by Susie Salmon, a fairly typical 14-year old girl in 1970s Pennsylvania.  This is an era before missing children turned up on milk cartons or the evening news, and while walking home from school Susie is lured into a trap by a creepy neighbor and murdered.

Suzie doesn’t go to heaven, but instead finds herself in a fantasy world somewhere between heaven and earth.  She is told that in order to move on to heaven, she must let go of her previous life and let her family move on without her, but this is something she is not yet ready to do.  While she watches from the in-between, her father becomes obsessed with finding her killer, her sister begins to grow suspicious of the neighbor, and her mother, unable to deal with the grief, abandons the rest of the family.

Saorise Ronan as Susie in The Lovely BonesThe tone of the movie is all over the place.  The story in itself has elements of horror, fantasy, comedy, romance, and murder mystery, but Jackson and his co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens are unable to blend these elements together; instead, they seem to be rather abruptly cut together.  For example, there is a moment in which Susan Sarandon’s Grandma Lynn is brought in to break up the family’s grief with some comic relief, but the montage that results feels like something taken out of a completely different movie (Mrs. Doubtfire?) and it overpowers the rest of the story and stands out like a sore thumb.  There were many moments like this that really took me out of the story.

The movie could have been an intriguing detective story as Susie’s father begins to piece together the puzzle, but that aspect of the story is reduced to him staring at the killer until he realizes that he’s the guy.  It is more humorous than suspenseful and just one of many moments in the film that generated laughs when they didn’t seem appropriate, probably leading to those “that was so funny” comments I heard on the way out.

There are some aspects to like in The Lovely Bones, number one being Stanley Tucci’s performance as the child murderer George Harvey.  He’s maintains a wonderfully creepy edge without going over the top and it works as a perfect balance to his performance last year as Julia Child’s husband in Julie & Julia.  Saorise Ronan and Rose McIver are also both good as Susie and her sister Lindsey, respectfully, but Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz do little to impress as the parents.

The style director Peter Jackson brings to the film, particularly that of Susie’s life in the in-between, is also very impressive and I especially enjoyed a sequence in which enormous ships in bottles crash into the shore.  At times, however, I wanted to query Jackson on his finger fetish as there are endless extreme close-ups of character’s fingers.

In the end, I walked out of The Lovely Bones very disappointed.  Perhaps most of all I was disappointed because, in the end, when Susie explains the moral of the story, it’s just not something that I felt I was being led to over the past two hours.

The Lovely Bones is rated PG-13 for “mature thematic material involving disturbing content and images, and some language.”  It’s really the intensity of the child murderer that makes this inappropriate for children.  There’s also a fairly violent beating.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of The Lovely Bones.