The Lovely Bones (USA/UK/New Zealand; 135 min.)

directed by: Peter Jackson
starring: Saoirse Ronan ; Stanley Tucci; Mark Wahlberg; Rachel Weisz; Susan Sarandon; Rose McIver
The Lovely Bones

Jason says: "Though I tend to think that attempting to fit a movie into a specific genre and then being frustrated when it fails to fit there nicely speaks more ill of the viewer's inflexibility than the movie itself, I admit to falling into the trap with THE LOVELY BONES.  Peter Jackson is too good a filmmaker for it to leave me screaming 'what do you want from me, movie? What do you want?,' but the many things it tries to do are at cross-purposes, and none wind up done well enough.

"We are introduced to Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) in her own words.  In late 1973, she was just starting high school, loved photography, had a crush on senior Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie).  She was bright, and once saved her brother's life with her quick thinking.  And she was murdered by a neighbor, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who fails to ignite suspicion in detective Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli).  The loss of Susie is devastating to her family; parents Jack (Mark Wahlberg) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz) can barely function, and Grandma Lynn (Susan Sarandon), who is something of a handful herself, comes to take charge.  But Susie's not completely gone, it seems; she's in an in-between world defined by her imagination, watching those left behind, occasionally with another girl, Holly (Nikki SooHoo), for company.

"So, what is this thing?  It's not a murder mystery - we know who did it too early - and it's not really a crime story, despite how Jack and Susie's sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) play detective later on.  It's got big, flashy elements that peg it as a soft story of the supernatural, sometimes crossing into the thriller category but more often the type that offers a warm view of the great mysteries but scrupulously avoids any specific religious affiliation.  Mostly, it's about a family grieving, and not well, with the Susie scenes perhaps meant as a metaphor for how she is still with them but not.  The thing is, a number of them don't make any sense unless they are happening literally, which opens the door to any number of other paranormal situations being in play.  Indeed, at one point toward the end of the movie, a character actually seems to pause, recognize that the emotional resolution has just occurred, and then visually shift gears because, hey, murder investigation still going on.  And the less said about how that is wrapped up, the better.

"There's other problems.  A similar one is the fantasy world that Susie inhabits; it's beautifully realized, as you might expect from the filmmaker behind HEAVENLY CREATURES, KING KONG, and the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.  But this is the sort of thing where each image needs to be meaningful and specific, and while there's a sense that Jackson is trying for that, he seldom manages much more than 'pretty.'  Jackson also engages in some heavy-handed foreshadowing in a couple of scenes early on, although Mark Wahlberg is a common denominator there (I seem to recall him seeming like a guy with a bright future at one point, but it's becoming hard to remember why).

"He's just part of an ensemble, though, and some of the other members are excellent.  Saoirse Ronan, for instance, is fantastic.  It's not the same sort of showy part she had in Atonement, but in just the opening few minutes, she's got us thinking that we know this kid and sort of adore her; she certainly never lets us down during the afterlife sequences.  Then there's Stanley Tucci, creepy as heck playing the killer, all his usual quirk and affect drained away until there's just a bland monstrousness to Harvey.  On the other end of the spectrum, Susan Sarandon livens up every scene she's in.

"And despite all the different ways that the story is pushed and pulled, Jackson does a good job of keeping the audience's interest.  He's got a good eye for detail even outside the special effects scenes, and does a good job with pacing.  A story that is, more than anything, about mourning can either seem to drag or sell the emotion short.  His sure hand is frequently able to give us hope that he's going somewhere with all of this, and make individual scenes well worth watching.

"Those individual scenes never add up to a whole movie, though.  Maybe in the original book, there's enough detail and room for elaboration to connect all of the story's facets so that they work together.  In the film, though, the bits of the story often seem to be at cross-purposes, and it's hard to feel anything when the rules are just going to change a few minutes later. 2 1/2 cats

"Seen 7 January 2010 in AMC Boston Common #18 (preview screening)"