‘The Lovely Bones’ lacks backbone

By Kate MacDonald

In making “The Lovely Bones,” director Peter Jackson ventures perilously into the land of risk – a land traversed when moviemakers try to make a wildly popular book into a movie. Many have done it right – take “Twilight,” “Harry Potter,” and for instance, even Jackson’s own “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Given his pedigree, it’s easy to assume that Jackson would be a pro at this by now. The audience of “The Lovely Bones,” however, would have to disagree.

“The Lovely Bones” is essentially a movie about death and not wanting to let go. The main character, Susie Salmon – played by newcomer Saoirse Ronan – doesn’t want to let go of her life, which was snuffed out tragically at the start of the film by her creepy neighbor, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Harvey tries to keep his identity a secret from Susie’s biggest advocates, her father (Mark Wahlberg) and sister (Rose McIver). While Susie copes with her situation in a limbo of her own making, she won’t move on until her death is avenged.

For a movie about murder, the plot is rather backward. The audience is introduced to the killer within the first few minutes, and the bulk of the story is played out before the movie is half over. It is more akin to a socialcommentary on how family members and close friends deal with death than a murder mystery. Some seem to obsess, making every aspect of their own lives about vengeance, while others simply deny what has happened and try to forget as quickly as possible. The draw to “The Lovely Bones,” however, is supposed to be waiting around to see if Susie’s family and the police pick up on the obvious clues that her killer leaves along the way.

Anyone who sees “The Lovely Bones” after reading the novel will be sorely disappointed in many respects. Many scenes, including the first long shot of the film, could have easily been cut to make room for more relevant parts from the book. Huge plotlines aren’t even touched upon, while some characters aren’t introduced at all, and many of the characters that are lucky enough to make an appearance aren’t developed as much as they should be. 

That being said, the actors in Jackson’s film do the best they can with the choppy storyline he has given them. As the antagonist, Stanley Tucci does a great job at playing an average, quiet next-door neighbor who happens to be a psychopath behind closed doors. Then there’s Ronan, whose only other notable role was in “Atomement,” and who obviously has a talent for acting. Susan Sarandon also shines, though her role was far too minor. She plays the kooky grandmother who is supposed to help the family recover from the devastating loss of their daughter. She’s a reckless alcoholic who can’t seem to do normal house chores, but succeeds in bringing life back into the house, as well as into the faltering “Bones.”

Other members of the A-list cast don’t live up to their reputations. With palpable talent in movies like “Enemy at the Gates” and “About a Boy,” Rachel Weisz has proven her bankability in Hollywood. However, this star fails to shine in “The Lovely Bones,” playing a character who seems too young to be the mother of teens. She comes off as an unconvincing figure, particularly when Susie first goes missing, opting instead to wait for the police to find her. No mother would do that.

Mark Wahlberg comes off as a bit young for his part as well, though at least he brings pathos to the part that his counterpart seems to lack.

Thankfully, the setting keeps things interesting. Meg Everist and George DeTitta Jr. do an amazing job of recreating the1970s Technicolor era. The furniture, the bellbottoms and even the loud use of color – all of it is impeccable. Susie’s limbo is a visual delight, though it might be a rip-off. Evidently, Jackson sees heaven as a cross between Narnia and the Middle Earth of his more famous films. The trippy scenes keep the audience guessing what will happen next on Susie’s journey.

Due to faulty characters and big plotline gaps, it’s unlikely that “The Lovely Bones” will be hailed as a classic or work its way onto any best movies of the year lists. If the story is intriguing, instead of paying the $10 to go see this mediocre film, head to the nearest Borders and just pick up the book instead.

Kate MacDonald can be reached at [email protected].