Review: “The Lovely Bones”

lovelyclouds

You know, there’s really not very much wrong with Peter Jackson‘s adaptation of the celebrated Alice Sebold novel, which tells the story of the aftershocks of a young girl’s murder from the perspective of the dead girl herself. But much like the film’s intense but helpless protagonist, the movie is stuck between worlds, and as a result fails to make much more than a passing impression.

The Lovely Bones (and no, it isn’t a sequel to the 2001 Snoop Dogg movie) falls into the category of film that I like to call “ashtray movies”: Painstaking recreations of a bygone era that put the right ashtray on the table and paper on the kitchen wall but fail to create an engaging narrative among all the bric-a-brac.

Armed with the best of intentions and the snazziest early-’70s flea-market decor you can imagine, Bones attempts to pull off what is likely not even possible: Turning a book that is part metaphysical musing, part murder mystery, part coming-of-age tale into a cohesive mainstream film. Though it features good performances and, again, amazing production design, it’s about as emotionally engaging as a visit to a particularly well-maintained kitsch shop.

lovelyweissRachel Weisz and the nominee for Best Supporting Wallpaper

As main character Susie Salmon, Atonement‘s Saoirse Ronan is the film’s best special effect, capturing the awkward beauty of a shy but fiercely intelligent 14-year-old with impressive ease. But once Susie has been murdered by the neighborhood’s card-carrying member of the Ted Bundy club (Stanley Tucci), Ronan is banished to a CGI-heavy world of shifting backgrounds and the movie becomes a retro episode of The Ghost Whisperer, with Mark Wahlberg standing in for Jennifer Love Hewitt‘s spirit-divining decolletage.

While Ronan watches the aftermath of her killing from leftover landscapes from Lord of the Rings, Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon try to find meaning in their loss but ultimately wind up in a rather bland meditation on grief that wouldn’t be out-of-place in the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

lovelygazebo“One gazebo to bind them…”

Were the various threads tied together again down the line things would be fine, but ultimately the film just sort of throws everything out the window (right past those gorgeous curtains!) and chalks a bit too much up to cosmic convenience. We never feel that Susie really understands what happened to her or that she truly goes to a better place … which would be fine, if that were the point. Here it’s just the result of an awkward final act.

I’m a huge fan of Jackson and while I had hoped for better from the guy who brought adolescent terror to such shimmering, grotesque life in Heavenly Creatures, I have a feeling that in the case of Bones the failing lies more in the attempt to make an unfilmable film. While the novel was embraced for its unique perspective and lyrical handling of the rape and murder of a child, it just may be the kind of perspective that can’t be captured in a mainstream narrative film.

lovelysaoirseSaoirse Ronan

In the end The Lovely Bones is not an agonizing watch (and I will say that it doesn’t feel all of its 135 minutes), but by the next day your memories of it will likely fade like a beautiful but insignificant half-remembered dream. With killer ashtrays.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

ReviewTwoSkully

The Lovely Bones is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving the killing of children, gratuitous Tucci comb-over and brief Pyrex.

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Buzz created CampBlood.org in 2003 to meet a need for a safe place for weirdos of all stripes to discuss horror movies from a queer perspective. Now that the campers have overtaken the Camp staff and locked them in the Arts & Crafts cabin he is questioning that decision.