Review: The Lovely Bones

An otherwise decent film is somewhat spoiled for ROB BROWN by Peter Jackson’s knobbish reliance on saccharine special effects.

Cinema Film Lovely Bones Movie Peter Jackson Sarandon Wahlberg Weisz

It’s only been an hour since I finished watching this film and already I’ve gone through several different reviews in my head. The problem with Peter Jackson’s adaptation is that bits of it are good, very good. However, unfortunately Jackson was unable to rein in his usual cinematic flourishes and in the end the result, while good, is sadly disappointing.

Whilst the scenes set on Earth are satisfying and often suitably poignant for a film about the rape and murder of a fourteen year old girl, the scenes set in Heaven are atrocious. In point of fact it’s not actually Heaven, it’s the “in-between” world where souls that are not quite ready to let go of Earth reside, allowing our dead girl (and by extension the viewer) to watch her family wallow in grief. Jackson seems to think this allows him to make it look like the inside of a sixties snow globe, it’s all special effects, playful make-up and psychedelic versions of the Northern Lights. Bearded knob. This twee, saccharine vision is the setting for some really crappy scenes which, often interspersed with real world scenes, ruin the entire pacing and mood of the movie. This is not all Jackson’s fault, Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel on which the film is based was able to handle these scenes far more successfully simply because the medium allowed for a far more rounded development of such an idea.
The drama on earth is thankfully far better. Sensitive performances from Rachel Weisz and even “Marky” Mark Wahlberg allow the viewer to feel the distraught parents’ grief naturally without turning the film into a pantomime. Indeed, it is the intelligent performances that keep the film moving, in the face of a rather leaden script. This is especially true of Susan Sarandon’s role as the booze-swilling grandmother who arrives to hold the grief-stricken family together. Sarandon performs miracles with some very thin material, adding an element of comedy and fun to an otherwise largely depressing film; and the audience would have benefitted from more of her. Saoirse Ronan, her of the dyslexic’s wet dream, is excellent in a difficult role as Susie, the owner of the Lovely Bones of the title (which has more meaning than simply this, as the final narration reveals). Finally, an almost unrecognisable Stanley Tucci portrays a kind of greasy menace with style and substance and has been deservedly nominated for an Oscar nomination for his work.

There are several minor changes to the book’s plot, most of which serve to smooth the course of a film adaptation: I doubt any audience would be comfortable with the idea of the now adult love interest having virtual sex with Susie many years after her murder. Moreover, several sequences, especially in the final act, are missing important scenes that help to develop the story to a satisfying emotional conclusion and these omissions and changes somewhat dull the story’s impact. The film is also overlong and could do with some trimming of the fat, especially in the aforementioned special effects scenes; these points, along with several poor stylistic choices from Jackson, somewhat spoil what is otherwise a very good movie. Nevertheless, the most important characteristic of such a film (and indeed any film) must be that it evokes feeling, which is something it manages to do, despite its varied flaws. Continuing the depressing theme that seems to be the fate of 2010 in film (see The Road), The Lovely Bones is nonetheless uplifting and well worth a viewing.