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The Lovely Bones (2009)

December 17, 2009

3/10 Trips to the Library

Yeesh. Go read the book and call it a day.

The Lovely Bones is the story of Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl in 1973 that watches down from heaven as her family copes with her death and searches for her killer after she’s raped and murdered by their neighbor down the block.

As much as I’d like to not make this review a book vs. movie comparison, this is unfortunately one of those situations where I feel like my hand has been forced. To say that this movie missed the mark is putting it lightly, saying that it felt like a different story altogether is probably getting warmer. I don’t know what the hell happened here, but considering the folks behind this had such a fantastic novel to work off of, I can only assume that someone out there must have been actively trying to screw this baby up.

So, yeah, it’s gonna be one of those reviews.

Then again, I don’t think a whole lot of people are going to be seeing this without having already read the source material, and for those of you who haven’t, I suggest making it a last minute addition to the Christmas list and save those precious twelve bucks of yours for Avatar instead.

Now, for all intents and purposes, Peter Jackson is a damn good director. The guy’s got it made in the shade at this point, he combs his hair every morning in the golden reflections of his three Oscars just because, and there’s really nothing left for him to prove – at least when it comes to sprawling epics. All the same, I still thought Jackson was a pretty odd choice to helm this very character-driven story of an otherwise ordinary family, and while I’d hoped my doubts would be put to rest after digging Heavenly Creatures – which was very much in the same vein – it didn’t take long for me to realize that they were very much being confirmed.

The scenes of Susie in the “inbetween” – a limbo of sorts between heaven and Earth – are awfully pretty, but it doesn’t feel like Susie’s vision of heaven, it feels like Peter Jackson’s vision of heaven. In a nutshell, he spends too much time focusing on Susie, too much time centering the story on her family trying to find her killer, and not enough time spending it on the family themselves. That was the most interesting part of the novel for me and it almost feels like a footnote here.

But it’s not all Jackson’s fault. You’d think with two other people helping him write the script that at least somebody would finally read it over and say, “Boy, we’re really screwing the pooch on this one.” Unfortunately, this never happened and we’re left with a rushed plot, a cast of completely undeveloped characters, and an utter lack of emotional weight among other wonderful compliments.

The best way I can sum up what went wrong here is that the final product felt safe. I wasn’t expecting this movie to be PG-13 after reading the book, but it sure is. One of the big reasons I had a hard time putting the novel down is because it challenges the reader and doesn’t shy away from the ugly aspects of its story, like actually acknowledging that Susie was raped and not just murdered. Yeah, it’s tough to handle, but it’s important. There are other huge aspects of the original story that are also left out, but for the sake of those out there who haven’t read the book, I’m not gonna spoil it. Just know that they’re glaring.

The other big no-no here is the cast.

I’m aware that he might hunt me down and whup my ass in broad daylight for this, but Mark Wahlberg, what the hell happened? For some reason beyond my understanding, someone decided to cast him as Susie’s father. Wahlberg’s not the emotional dad, he’s the guy who’ll say hi to your mother for you and then give you a swift elbow to the face while posing for a Calvin Klein ad in his boxer briefs. Not only is his acting god awful, but am I the only one who thinks he still looks like Dirk Diggler from Boogie Nights? The weird thing is that I’ve always thought he was a pretty good actor and that he’s come a long way from his days with The Funky Bunch, but this was just a bad idea.

Nor was I all that impressed with Saoirse Ronan as Susie, either. I thought she was great in Atonement, and while there were a couple moments where I thought she really had Susie down, it just didn’t feel right. The problem is that her character’s outlook on life and overall temperament in the script was way different from that in the novel. Instead of being carefree and reflective, she’s extremely emotional and dramatic about everything that’s going on in her world and her family’s. It feels like the “Hollywood version” of Susie and it takes away a great deal of what made her such a great protagonist to begin with.

And while I still think Rachel Wiesz is one of the better actresses out there right now, her turn here as Susie’s mother isn’t anything to write home about. Again, a lot the blame goes to the writers for not giving her much of anything to work with. I guess she looks the part, but “motherly” has never been the first word that comes to mind when I think of Rachel Weisz.

But The Lovely Bones does have two saving graces going for it (thank God). The first is Susan Sarandon as Susie’s grandmother. She’s perfectly cast and comes off as one of the more believably human characters in the story.

The other is Stanley Tucci as Susie’s killer, George Harvey. Apparently I’ve been totally out of the loop in regards to what a good actor this guy is, because he freakin’ nails it here. I’m not surprised in the least that he got a Golden Globe nod since he’s the best thing this movie has going for it, but what a great performance all the same. Might be the only thing about this movie that feels exactly like it should.

I wish I didn’t have to write a review like this because I’m usually of the mindset that a movie can be appreciated in its own right apart from the material it’s based on. But alas, I was pretty damn disappointed. The Lovely Bones could have been great on a lot of fronts and for some reason it failed miserably. I wish I could say that it at least serves as an interesting counterpoint to the novel, but unless you feel like getting the butchered Sparknotes version, you’ll probably be more content sticking with the images in your head. Man, what a good book…

Sorry, P.J. You can’t win ’em all.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2009 2:10 am

    Damn, I was really hoping this would be a good one 😦

  2. December 17, 2009 7:11 am

    great review, you can add ‘screwing the pooch’ to your list of good lines. havent read the book, dont have a huge interest in seeing the film, but you can kind of tell from the stills of what heaven looks like in it that this movie is never gonna get as dark as it should.
    seem to remember Ryan Gosling was the dad but walked and then they got Wahlberg, who isnt really a good actor – playing yourself in The Depahted and getting an Oscar nom doesnt count.
    but then i think Return of the King is the most boring film ever made.

  3. December 17, 2009 1:06 pm

    Hi Adien R!  
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  4. December 17, 2009 3:28 pm

    I read somewhere producers forced Jackson to make changes at the last minute. Might explain the problems.

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