The break out novel The Lovely Bones was bound to get a film adaptation much like all best-sellers. Featuring an ensemble cast and production team, The Lovely Bones had all the right elements to re-create Alice Sebold’s novel. Yet this film does not reach the hype of the book or the production that surrounded its release.
Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is a 14-year old girl who develops a crush on Ray, who at her locker, slips a note into her notebook to meet her at a gazebo. While walking home from school, Susie runs into her neighbor, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) persuades her to visit an underground bunker in the middle of a corn field. Susie, uncomfortable in the bunker, attempts to leave. She narrowly escapes to run home to see her father Jack Salmon (Mark Wahlberg) looking for her, but he does not see or hear her, she realizes she did not escape the bunker and had been killed.
Susie is forever trapped in an in-between world where she must watch her family struggle to come to terms with her disappearance. In the in-between world, she encounters Holly who explains that Susie must come to terms and move on. Her mother, Abigail (Rachel Weisz) leaves the family due to stress, prompting Abigail’s mother, Lynn (Susan Sarandon), an alcoholic to help assist the family. Jack and Susie’s older sister, Lindsay, have growing suspicions regarding Harvey and target him as Detective Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli) believes the case is growing cold.
The Lovely Bones certainly has the substance and merit to warrant a film adaptation, however Peter Jackson is unable to bring the story to full fruition. His signature style is very much in the spotlight. Extreme wide-angle close-ups, moving object inserts, and sweeping crane shots are all present, calling back to Jackson’s pre-Lord of the Rings days. Taking more style from his splatter flick Dead Alive and Heavenly Creatures. Granted, The Lovely Bones does not feature body horror like Dead Alive, however the suspense is very present in this film and well executed.
The in-between world where Susie’s soul inhabits after her death has an aura that rivals What Dreams May Come, but has a toned down special effects package. Brian Eno’s score assists these scenes in creating an ethereal tone that properly separates Susie from Heaven and Earth. This score adds to this in between world far more than the effects.
The performances are excellent, particularly of Wahlberg and Ronan. Ronan, whose performance in Atonement as a bratty girl who tears her sister’s love affair apart, has approached her teenage years as a talented actress. Her scenes with Wahlberg, particularly finishing ships in bottles show the true love that this simple, typical family has for each other. Tucci has completely disappeared behind his character. His perfectionist demeanor and dorkiness as George Harvey awarded him a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
The theme of using detailed miniatures is ever-present in this story. Jack shares his love of building ships in bottles with Susie. This idea of miniatures expands to George’s occupation of building doll houses. Both Jack and George are masters of the miniature. Their levels of minute detail parallel Jack’s occupation as an accountant and George’s detailed accounts and executions of his murders.
It is difficult describe where The Lovely Bones ultimately fails. The special effects are adequate, the cast is superb, the suspense is riveting, but the heart and love is missing. There is very much a preachy tone of the need for both Susie and her family to let go of their grief. It is that ideal that just seems wrong. A family who loses a teenager, or any child for that matter, may never recover from such a tragedy. You never let go. You just find a new normal. Only Abigail’s character truly captures the stress and depression that occurs.