THE LOVELY BONES (Dir. Peter Jackson, 2009)
“I was fourteen years old when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973.” So says Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) at the beginning of this adaptation of Alice Sebold’s 2002 best seller. Ronan’s voice-over comes not from beyond the grave, but from she calls “the blue horizon between heaven and earth.”
There’s no mystery to how she got there - a creepy neighbor (Stanley Tucci) in her family’s Norristown, Pennsylvanian suburb lured her into an underground bunker he built in a nearby field.
In the months afterwards her disappearance throws her parents (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz) into domestic disarray while her sister (Rose McIver) starts to suspect Tucci. Ronan, well cast with her ocean colored eyes, watches her family from the mythic realm, which is not unlike the vivid ultra-colorful heaven of WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, as she walks from one spectacular landscape to the next hoping to reconcile the messy end of her life and move on.
LORD OF THE RINGS visionary Peter Jackson keeps the camera moving with swooping crane shots and cuts with a good sense of juxtaposition, but the story is too drawn out to create much suspense. It’s an immaculately made movie, but it appears to be missing enough soul to really pull us in and make us care. It also suffers from a strongly misplaced thread involving Susan Sarandon as the Mrs. Robinson-esque alcoholic grandmother with her bouffant hair, mink coats, and always present cigarette dangling from her fingers. A montage in which she attempts to help out and clean house should’ve been edited out – I understand that they felt the film needed some sort of comic relief, but this really feels forced.
Though overwrought at times, Wahlberg puts in a decent performance, at least better than in THE HAPPENING, as the obsessed father who constantly calls upon an investigating detective (Michael Imperioli from The Sopranos) to run checks on every possible suspect.
It seems that they look into everybody in town before they get to Tucci, which is surprising since he lives across the street from the victim’s family. “These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections - sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent.” Ronan’s concluding musings are apt, for there is magnificence in this film - visually speaking that is.
Otherwise, the connections are too tenuous and its pace is too plodding. I haven't read the book on which it's based, but I suspect that its most stirring passages were too cerebral to be translated to the big screen.
At least as far as this film adaptation goes, THE LOVELY BONES is sadly a supremely unsatisfying experience.