Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lovely Bones’ accomplishes one thing that’s hard to do.
I’ve never seen a film in which the foreboding sounds of inanimate objects cause such an emotional stir while the allegedly animate actors cause almost none.
In his adaptation of the Alice Sebold novel about a child murder, Jackson’s film does pretty well in re-creating the sights and sounds of 1973, capturing that Lynch-ian fraudulent suburban paradise with the depraved desires lurking underneath. And yet for all of its indulgence in graphic situations, you never get that disturbed jolt. The movie’s narrator isn’t the only thing that’s dead.
The gimmick of ‘The Lovely Bones’ is that it is narrated by the dead child, Susie Salmon (whom Saoirse Ronan at least keeps from also being a dead fish), from a halfway point to Heaven that bears considerable resemblance to Candyland or an endless screensaver. There, she watches her murderer and family from above, and soapily longs for the boy she never got to kiss. Having been brutally killed, these digs aren’t too bad. Child murder has never looked so inviting.
The tone of the film swings wildly among horror film, domestic melodrama, Twilight-y romance, and cheesy comedy. At times it is deadly serious. At other times, deadly ludicrous. This culminates in Stanley Tucci’s murderer. Under dorky windbreakers and a ridiculous sandy mustache, the effect is more comedy than horror. It’s hard to be too creeped out when the epitome of evil appears too much like a Carol Burnett skit character (to make a nice seventies reference).
The film seems to have little to say and exists only to bathe in (un-)emotional pornography. That is until the end, when it suddenly advises against vengeance and tells everyone that we should chill out and Zen-like move on from the tragedy. Then it reverses course and grants the audience’s desire for the bad guy to get it. There’s nothing worse than a movie that can’t take its own advice.