Peter Jackson's latest film The Lovely Bones was supposed to be a heavy awards contender. Its release date set for early December, the movie was supposed to make a lot of money and garner several nominations throughout the holidays. And then a few lukewarm reviews appeared, followed by a couple of bad ones. Paramount panicked and pushed its wide release back a month, destroying much of its marketing buzz along the way. Did it deserve such treatment? No, as The Lovely Bones is pretty good. However, it still fails to live up to expectations.
The Lovely Bones stars Oscar-nominated actress Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon, a 14-year old girl who is on the verge of her first romance. Before she can go on her first date, however, she is murdered by her neighbor (played by a truly creepy Stanley Tucci). As her mother (Rachel Weisz) grieves and her father (Mark Wahlberg) attempts to discover the truth, Susie finds herself in "the in-between," a beautiful purgatory that still allows her some connection to the real world.
The movie, based on an allegedly popular book, succeeds and fails due to its source material. The book presumably tells the entire story from the dead girl's point of view, which establishes an imaginative platform from which Jackson can build his production. The movie blends realistic segments with Mario Universe-style dreamscapes; both dimensions look and feel great. The dream world is beautiful and speaks to Jackson's strengths as a director; the rest of the movie, set in the 1970's, shows that he can do ordinary as well.
The story flows at a good pace and is consistently entertaining from beginning to end. Even when the movie is set in the real world, it has a dreamlike quality to it. The screenplay, from the screenwriters of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is pretty good and benefits from a strong group of actors. Saoirse Ronan leads the way with an engaging performance; she's not as powerful as she was in Atonement, but the material, nor the character, is as good. Wahlberg is fine, but he needs to find a much grittier role for his next job; he plays the nice guy to perfection, but seems to have lost some of his tough-guy edge. Weisz is good, as always, but doesn't get much to do; Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, is entertaining as the fun-loving grandma.
It's Stanley Tucci who steals the show, however. Tucci delivers an authentically creepy performance as the next-door neighbor/serial killer. Tucci is, ultimately, the one memorable part of the movie.
And that's the problem with The Lovely Bones. AS hyped and anticipated as the movie was, it fails to deliver much in the way of noteworthy material. Aside from Tucci, the acting is good but not memorably so. The screenplay is effective but not as emotional or captivating as it should have been. And the story, as engaging as it is, just doesn't work so well when adapted to the big screen.
The problems lay primarily in the two worlds where the movie set. Both work fine on their own, but there is little synergy between the two. Where the book may have been able to blend the narratives adequately, the dream world Susie Salmon resides in, ultimately, adds little value to the picture. Her sequences are pretty but don't do anything to progress the story. The climax highlights this fact, as Jackson's attempts at suspense result in a major letdown.
Some novels work as movies and some don't: The Lovely Bones doesn't. The movie looks great and features an excellent performance by Tucci, but even Jackson can't pull of this adaptation.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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