The Lovely Bones

Posted: 10th May 2010 by Mister Critic in Random
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Is there ever “the right moment” to watch a really depressing movie? Lately I am finding it increasingly difficult to work up the motivation to watch certain films. When I’m in a good mood, the last thing I want is some movie bringing me down, and when I’m in the dumps, it is not a wise idea to be exploring dark places. Good luck finding any middle ground.  And thanks to Netflix, my procrastination goes unabated because I receive movies with no due date to work against. So there sat The Lovely Bones, taunting me for the past few weeks.
The movie The Lovely Bones (2009) is based on a novel by Alice Sebold, published in 2002.  It is the story of a young girl, Susie Salmon, age 14, who is murdered and watches from the afterlife as her family copes with the loss. See what I’m saying about depressing?
Now before you yell at me about spoiling the movie plot by revealing that she was murdered, that tidbit is revealed early in both the book and the movie.  In fact, it is in the first line of the book, which is one of the aspects that I really liked about the novel. The author took a risk by subverting the conventional suspense behind whether a main character is going to die and cut straight to the aftermath of such a tragedy, focusing instead on the impact of the main character’s death on the other characters. I thought that focus really worked in the novel. Not so much in the movie, though.

I am usually interested in how a novel I have experienced will be interpreted on the big screen, and that was especially the case when I heard that Peter Jackson was directing this film. Mr. Jackson has experience in faithfully adapting novels as evidenced by The Lord of Ring Trilogy, a work of art, in my humble opinion.  And he recently directed a remake of King Kong, which got the job done, but was not as impressive to me as the Rings.

On the positive side of things, I could tell that Jackson really loved the novel, The Lovely Bones, and stayed true to the general feel of the book. He did a great job capturing the time period, the early 1970s, with the clothes, hair, and technology, and as my wife pointed out, at times the film had that look that color photos had from that era. I thought he created some interesting visuals with his interpretations of things like Susie’s afterlife, although at times it felt like he was trying a little too hard to be artsy or quirky. It felt like we were treading upon familiar ground, similar to What Dreams my Come, and this detracted from what should have been a character driven movie.

And that’s where I found the movie to be lacking. I wanted more depth to the discussion of the impact of Susie’s death on the family.  The title comes from Susie observing how her family and friends grew after she died, and seeing how the connections they made were “the lovely bones that had grown around [her] absence . . .”  A similar statement is made in the movie, but it does not hold as much weight in the film because the director provides very little evidence of said growing or changing or connections.  Instead the movie seemed to want to play more with the suspense behind how the death happened, or whether the murderer would be caught, turning it into more of a crime thriller.

Perhaps one reason I felt this lacking, was due it part to Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal of the father. For whatever reason, Jackson chose to essentially cut out a huge part of the mother role which completely wasted casting the talented Rachel Weisz.  Susan Sarandon, as the grandmother, was also wasted as comic relief rather than channeling her dramatic talent. So that left Wahlberg to carry the water in order to show the impact on the family, and he spilled most of the water.

First, Marky Mark was an odd casting choice. He just did not read as the father type in this movie. He seemed more like the big brother, or worse yet, the creepy uncle. Maybe it was the 70’s hair, or the fact that I will never disassociate him from Dirk Diggler of Boogie Nights.  Also, thanks to Saturday Night Live, my wife could not stop saying, “Say hello to your mother for me,” whenever Wahlburg spoke.

Now I give the guy a B- for effort, he tried to emote the desperation of trying to find his daughter, or the pain associated with the loss, but this movie needed more from him to make that character work. He did good job with anger, that is his “go-to” emotion, however in one scene, where he was looking at his reflection in a window, he just looked constipated.

Overall, the lack of depth in a majority of the characters left me detached from this movie for the most part, which is the polar opposite of how I felt reading the book. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood, or maybe reading the book spoiled it for me. Don’t get me wrong, the very thought of losing my daughter in such a manner tears me apart, but other than the scenes described below, the movie allowed me separate myself emotionally, which caused me to lose interest.  And perhaps that’s just my problem because every time I looked over at my wife she was sobbing through the entire movie.

What really saves this movie for me is the performance by Stanley Tucci as George Harvey, the child predator.  He does a fantastic job portraying this monster, right down to the odd speech patterns and creepy mannerisms.  Excellent work and a very well deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor. There are several scenes with Mr. Tucci that will haunt me forever, and will teach any child not to trust strangers. Those were the times that I was hit very hard, right in the gut, emotionally by this movie, and I found most of his scenes very difficult to watch, even though I knew how they would end. Ultimately, it is because of Mr. Tucci’s performance that I would recommend this movie as a good rental.

Right after the movie ended, my wife and I ran to check on the kids to make sure they were safe, which is what any self-respecting, really depressing movie should make you do. When it is all said and done, you should appreciate your life and the ones you love, and in that respect The Lovely Bones did what it needed to do. But if you are looking for more, stick to the book.