Theatrical Review: THE LOVELY BONES
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens (screenplay), Alice Sebold (novel)
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Rose McIver
I have a 2-year old daughter and, in my darkest moments, I often wonder just how badly I would massacre anyone who dared harmed her. It’s not healthy, but any parent who says they haven’t had those thoughts is lying to you. So, I was more than just a little bit surprised by how completely disengaged I was by Peter Jackson’s THE LOVELY BONES, as the major premise (which is evident from the trailer and made clear in interviews, reviews and the book…so this isn’t a spoiler) is based upon how the death of a young girl affects her family and township. Not only did THE LOVELY BONES fail to engage me, it also falls completely flat due to pedantic and lame moments, overuse of high-gloss CGI and a general lack of direction both onscreen and in the movie making process.
Granted, I have not read the source material for THE LOVELY BONES, which is Alice Sebold’s popular and evidently moving novel of the same name. But if there’s the same kind of goofball platitudes and overwrought emotions involved as there are in the film, I’ll pass. For instance, when we meet the film's main character, the darkly shadowed Susie Salmon (played amicably by Saoirse Ronan) she says, “My name is Salmon. Susie Salmon. Like the fish.” Umm…like the fish?? What the hell else would a salmon be like? Salmon like the avant-garde surrealist movement of the 1970’s? Salmon like the dog? It’s a lame line delivered to give some kind of false sense of drama when in fact, it’s just plain dumb. And moments like this happen frequently throughout THE LOVELY BONES. Heck, if you want to talk platitudes or stilted, goofy acting, look no farther than the film's father figure Jack Salmon played by Mark Wahlberg.
I don’t know if it’s the cumulative effect of that Andy Samberg skit where Wahlberg talks to the animals and his ridiculous performance in THE HAPPENING, but lately, any time Wahlberg is trying to speak seriously onscreen, it sounds like he’s talking to a one-year old who he caught running with scissors. Thus any emotional moments between him and his daughter seem ham-fisted and are damn near laughable. Plus, Wahlberg’s goofy ass 1970’s wig doesn’t help matters in the least. All Marky-Mark bashing aside, this film is just a big ole mess and Wahlberg is actually the least of its problems. In fact, I put the blame for this disaster firmly on the shoulders of Peter Jackson, who directed the film and helped write it.
Characters are given zero development and they come and go from the story freely, showing up only to complete plot points. For instance, Susan Sarandon plays “Grandma Lynn,” all we know about her is that she smokes and drinks. She shows up to help the emotionally devastated family and, although she seems to have raised a fine, capable daughter in mother figure Abigail Salmon (and equally underused Weisz), she proceeds to take on the role of every male character left alone with kids in every crappy movie ever made. The laundry ends up a slippery mess of suds, vacuuming the floor is incredibly taxing and simply cannot be completed, and cooking of course devolves into a fiery mess. After all, every film about the abduction and murder of a teenage girl needs a funny montage involving an inept adult trying to keep up a household!
Much of the film wobbles back and forth between real life in the aftermath of Susie’s murder and the afterlife where Susie is trapped in a CGI-infused limbo. Once shuffled off this mortal coil, Susie lives in a place that looks like a cross between Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and some kind of crappy commercial shilling little girl toys like ponies or princesses. Susie surrounds herself with rainbow mountains and lollipop smiles, yet still manages to find time to keep an eye on the proceedings back on planet earth. Here we get to know more about creepy neighbor George Harvey played by the film's one bright spot, Stanley Tucci. We know after ten minutes he’s the bad guy and his subtle, passive aggressive performance is the key to the one or two thrilling scenes in the film. But still, we never know why he targets Susie and that’s an issue. Any 60 minute episode of “Dexter” manages to give more depth and explanation to their serial killers than what can be found in the entire 2-hour plus duration of THE LOVELY BONES.
So, just went wrong here to make this movie, which has a really fine cast and source material (reportedly) just so…bad? To find an answer to that, I have to cast my eye towards Peter Jackson who was at the helm here. Jackson can do dark films, he can do redemption, and he can most definitely handle tricky adaptations, but none of these things happen here and for the life of me I can’t figure out what the filmmakers are trying for. The attempts at emotion are on the nose and downright silly and the complete lack of character development is baffling when as viewers, we need to be emotionally invested in these people.
Another key example of this can be found in the two surviving Salmon children who are completely ignored by their family (and thus, the audience) following Susie’s tragic demise. Worse, we’re kind of lead to believe that Lindsay Salmon (McIver), Susie’s sister, is kind of a bitch and we shouldn’t care for her at all. This makes the second half of the film impossible to connect with, as we’re forced to be on her side and root for her. Ugh, I can go on and on. It’s all just such a mess and I really wanted to enjoy the comeback of Peter Jackson, but alas that was not to be as THE LOVELY BONES is a pure failure.