When I first heard The Lovely Bones (directed by Peter Jackson and based on the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold) was being made into a movie, I had some reservations. Sure, the story was amazing, but adapting it to the big screen was going to have its fair share of challenges. Those who have read the book will know what I mean.
And after watching it on Christmas Day, I must say I was right in some respects. There are parts of The Lovely Bones that are genuinely beautiful and heartbreaking, full of pain and yearning from a life tragically unfulfilled. Those are the same elements that made the novel such a magnificent success. However, the more troublesome aspects of the adaptation, while probably handled as well as they could have been, just didn’t quite work.
Without giving too much of the plot away, The Lovely Bones is what is best described as a drama fantasy set in the 1970s about a teenage girl and her family, and how each of them deal with unexpected death and loss. There’s a lot more to the story than just that, but as usual, it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible.
The dramatic aspects of the film were done well. Jackson manages to capture that gut-wrenching ‘what might have been’ sensation of regret and melancholy at all the right moments, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to describe the film as a tear jerker. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the emotional impact lives up to the book, but with the medium and time constraints, it came fairly close.
The suspenseful aspects of the film, on the other hand, were simply outstanding. There were probably only a handful of such scenes, but Peter Jackson applied his magic touch to them and it kept me on the edge of my seat every time. It made me wish there were more of them.
Of course, much of the credit has to go to the cast. Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), who plays Susie Salmon, delivers an excellent performance beyond her years. She has a touch of class that is rarely seen in young actors these days. In a few years she will be a big star. Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg play her parents, and are both good, but not exceptional. Apparently, the film was initially set to go with Ryan Gosling in Wahlberg’s role, but he looked ‘too young’ to pull it off, even with a full beard. While that may be right, I got the feeling that Wahlberg may have been too young as well, especially with that floppy 70s haircut.
The standout though, has to be Stanley Tucci’s Mr Harvey. Tucci has been nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance (and I predict an Oscar nomination as well). Every time he’s on screen he unsettles you and makes you feel uncomfortable. I don’t know if he is more deserving than Christoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds, but Tucci is right up there after delivering one of the creepiest performances I’ve seen in a long time.
So that’s what’s good about The Lovely Bones. As I mentioned earlier, the film is a drama fantasy, and it’s because there are a substantial number of ‘fantasy’ scenes, filled with expensive special effects and an abundance of pretty imagery. These sequences take up a large part of the second half of the film, and that’s when my interest in the film really waned.
Those sequences were an integral part of the novel, so I wouldn’t have expected Jackson to cut them out completely, but there was too much of it for my liking. They were too long, too weird, and dare I say even somewhat silly. It just didn’t match the rest of the film as well as I would have liked. I don’t know if anyone else could have done a better job with it, but the bottom line is that those sequences, for the most part, didn’t work. If Jackson could have limited such scenes to an absolute minimum and ramped up the suspenseful and dramatic scenes, The Lovely Bones may have been a classic.
So overall, The Lovely Bones is a very solid, albeit uneven film. There are moments that can get to you on an emotional level, but it’s unfortunate that the lengthy fantasy sequences dragged it down. A minor disappointment as I had been looking forward to it and expected it to be better than it actually was.
3.5 stars out of 5!