The Lovely Bones
directed by Peter Jackson
(Paramount, 2009)

Nauseatingly beautiful is the only way The Lovely Bones can ultimately be described. Thanks to director Peter Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, audiences everywhere have been given the chance to see what misdirected creativity looks like -- literally.

For those of you who are not familiar with the story adapted from the novel of the same name by Alice Sebold, it is narrated from the point of view of 14-year-old Susie Salmon in 1970s suburbia. Susie, played by Saoirse Ronan, talks us through her supposedly brutal murder (we don't actually see it) in the middle of a cornfield, and then we watch as she lives in The In-Between. The In-Between is an audaciously magical world that's not quite heaven, but it is packed with glossy symbols and clues that keep Susie connected to her family. It seems that unless Susie willingly chooses to let go of her former life she can't move on to Heaven, and her family can't move on emotionally.

Watching the film is like watching the outcome of two halves of completely separate screenplays shoved through a shredder and then recombined with Elmer's glue. It's not that I have a problem with mixing genres -- because, when you think about it, practically all films have multiple genres thread through them -- but The Lovely Bones abruptly cuts from suspense and thriller to fantastical drama without comfortable pacing or tone. I'll admit it's a little frustrating to allow your heart and energy to be carried into the aching build-up of a murder scene ... and then nothing.

Its ugly fruition is fully eclipsed by mystical nonsense with Susie's ghost colliding into a living girl named Ruth. The film doesn't do justice to a title that suggests the possibility of beauty even in the midst of recognition of real-life horror. In my opinion, one must be fully realized by the film with the other in order for the audience to truly understand why it is on such a journey.

Jackson just didn't know how to peacefully combine all of the elements handed to him, and it feels like a constant battle to see if the beauty of the '70s-style playland Susie is stuck in can outshine the intensity of the search for Susie's killer, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), on Earth. Who wants to watch a film fight amongst itself?

During this "Battle of the Film Genres" (that's what I have officially dubbed it), Ronan, as Susie, is a lovely contrast to the showy special effects surrounding her for the majority of the film. The paleness of her features is an anchor amidst what is basically chaos in color, and her acting is refreshingly natural especially when combined with Tucci, who makes you physically sick with his eerily convincing performance. It is the best of the acting styles combined (at least something gelled well) with the blossoming of untarnished talent and the refined technique of a seasoned character actor.

Ultimately, the film leaves us wondering what the point of it all is. It's not until the end of the film that random objects and characters are suddenly, conveniently justified; if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say, "So that's why that was there" as we shuffled out of the theatre, I could have reimbursed my friends and myself for our tickets.

review by
Molly Ebert

13 February 2010

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