The Lovely Bones (2009)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon
On paper, The Lovely Bones seems like the perfect Oscar bait film. A beloved and heart-felt story from a best-selling novel, an impressive ensemble cast, and a true visionary behind the camera. So what went so terribly wrong through the film-making process?
For those unfamiliar with the novel, the story is told through the perspective of Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old Pennsylvania girl who is raped and murdered. She has a hard time letting go of the real world where here friends and family lives and is stuck in-between Earth and Heaven. Meanwhile, her family tries to cope with the tragedy.
Although Jackson creates a very vivid and colorful afterlife world for Susie, it seems that’s the only thing he did right in this adaptation. With an extremely strong cast, they were all underused. The script provided little opportunities for the cast to explore the emotional turmoil the family went through after their loss. I will mention that Stanley Tucci made all of his time on-screen count as the antagonist Mr. Harvey. Also, Susan Sarandon was noticeable as Grandma Lynn, but the strong duo of Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz were nonexistent.
Peter Jackson is certainly far from a bad director, but I feel he just wasn’t the right person to be in charge of The Lovely Bones. He’s a plot-heavy director that has the ability to create incredible unknown worlds with ease (Lord of the Rings, King Kong). Unfortunately, the essence of The Lovely Bones wasn’t Susie’s afterlife. It was how her tragedy tore her family apart.
I know I shouldn’t compare the literature to the movie, but even if I don’t, The Lovely Bones falls short on extracting any true emotions through a teenager’s death. The tones were jumping from a murder-mystery to a family drama to the portrayal of a child’s afterlife. The film was just too convoluted when it should’ve simply concentrated on the family attempting to deal with Susie’s death the best way they knew how.
Overall, The Lovely Bones underachieves its great potential. In some ways, this adaptation reminds me of the adaptation of Reservation Road (another strong dramatic literature that failed to excel on the silver screen). What The Lovely Bones manages to be is a decent murder mystery, a poor family drama, and an impressive imaginative display of a young girl’s own purgatory.