Review: The Lovely Bones
Based on a 2002 novel of the same name by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones is Peter (The Lord of the Rings) Jackson’s first movie since King Kong in 2005. Set in 1973, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is a normal 14-year-old girl living with her younger bother, sister and their parents. When Susie is murdered by a neighbour (Stanley Tucci) she finds herself in a sort of Technicolor Purgatory, unwilling to move on she watches over her family and her killer. The film is set over approximately two years and is held together by a from-the-grave voiceover from Susie.
The expression of time and space in the film is was appalling, there are a few lazy devices and comments in the voiceover that helped but some if just didn’t add up. Parts of the plot surrounding the murder were really week at best making the movie completely devoid of the emotional soul that it needed. Many films are accused of going to far with their portrayal of graphic violence; this movie doesn’t go far enough. Whilst I am not asking for anything gratuitous, the plot does need that little bit more. On the whole the acting was quite good with the best coming from Stanley Tucci and Susan Sarandon. But even this isn’t without its problems; Sarandon mainly appears in one small comic section of the movie that feels like it was tacked on to lift the otherwise dour movie. Although this segment was well handled and one of the best parts of the movie it was totally out of step with and detracted from the narrative as a whole. Set within two worlds, how much the worlds overlap and how much influence the dead characters can have is never really explored or properly explained. Whilst the scenes connecting the words don’t actually contradict each other they certainly don’t help each other. The voiceover by Saoirse Ronan is really annoying she sounds somewhere between a patronizing voice people use whilst talking to children and someone who is struggling for breath. The music is terrible; on its own there is nothing wrong with it but in the context of the film it is obtrusive and overpowering and sounds like a week attempt to inject some of the emotion that is lacking from the film. The ending felt nasty, shallow and unfulfilling when it could have been tragic, uplifting or emotional.
On a positive side the film is really well shot, the scene that is shot looking through the dollhouse is brilliant. The general real world scenes are also well handled and there is great attention to detail with the clothing and the houses and cars looking like a real 1970’s setting. The fantasy world is also well handled and looks its best when the two worlds begin to combine and blur. There is one stand out scene where Susie’s sister (Rose McIver) breaks into the killer’s house only for him to return home unexpectedly. The film is brilliantly acted and cut with Hitchcockien precision for total dramatic effect, of only the rest of the film could have been as good.
Having not read the book I don’t know how much of the criticism belongs with the author and how much with the filmmakers. The biggest problem with the film is that it leaves the audience with a hollow emptiness where the films soul should have been. Whilst not strictly speaking a bad film, there is too much wrong with it to be a good one. If you want to see what Peter Jackson can do with a teenage protagonist I would recommend Heavenly Creatures (1994) over his latest effort.
Two Stars out of Five