Movie Name: The Lovely Bones
Studio: WingNut Films
Release Date(s): November 24, 2009 (Premiere)/December 11, 2009 (US)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) had her whole life ahead of her before she was murdered at the age of fourteen by a neighbor named George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Now, Susie finds herself unable to move on as she watches her family cope with her death and try to uncover what happened to her…and Susie finds herself yearning to live again.
Directed by Peter Jackson, The Lovely Bones is a fantasy-suspense drama. The movie adapts the critically acclaimed 2002 novel by Alice Sebold. The movie received mixed reviews and a modest box office return. Stanley Tucci was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (losing to Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds).
I read The Lovely Bones when it was released and enjoyed the book. It wasn’t something that was expected from the genre and went in a completely different direction (which was a nice twist). Unfortunately for a movie adaptation, The Lovely Bones is really difficult to pin down, and you can see some of the difficulties in this film.
In the book and movie, there isn’t really a mystery. You know the character is dead and you are told relatively quickly who killed her. As a reader (and a viewer), you kind of assume that the story is going to involve Susie’s ghost observing the hunt for her killer…but that isn’t the case. While that is a big chunk of the story, the story is primarily about how different people cope with death and how death might seem to someone cut down so young. This is a hard concept to put across on film and reads better as a novel.
I cannot fault the cast however. Saoirse Ronan proved she had acting skill in Atonement and continues to show that she’s one of the best up and coming actresses. She’s kind of an anti-child actor (as opposed to someone like Dakota Fanning who seemed like a child actress). She naturally holds the screen. Mark Walhberg, Rachel Weisz, and Susan Sarandon play the parental figures. Walhberg was a last minute replacement for Ryan Gosling who was deamed too young for the role. I also like Susie’s younger sister Lindsey played by Rose McIver (who actually is older than Ronan). Stanley Tucci kind of stole the show however by playing against his normal roles to get the evil child molester character down (though it would have been good to see some dimension to his character as well).
One of the big problems that develops in the movie is the contrast of visuals. Much of Susie’s afterlife/heaven is lush and vibrant. It takes the idea of What Dreams May Come in that Heaven seems to be what you make of it. This however becomes a bit of a distraction to the story and it feels like it overrides the emotions.
The Lovely Bones was slightly better than I thought it would be due to the reviews when it was released, but it still has a ways to go to being good. It is a bit long, there are a lot of moving pieces to the story, and a lot of the emotion gets lost. There are some great tense scenes (like Susie’s capture and Lindsey’s search for evidence), but they are a bit unevenly spaced. If you have a choice, stick with The Lovely Bones novel.