The Lovely Bones

Where’s Robin Williams?


Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg

By Robert Patrick

Everybody, no matter what the demographic, seems to be reading Alice Sebold’s surrealistic novel, The Lovely Bones. I’m pretty sure most households, especially since the film has been released, has at least one edition of the buoyant thriller on their bookshelf. The subject matter, dealing with the mercurial dreamscape of a murdered child, lost somewhere in ‘the in between’, a purgatory that looks like a marred color wheel of pastel images and hallucinatory memories, was adapted by the wily-haired Peter Jackson, director of such monolithic films as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

“The Lovely Bones” finds 14 year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) lulled into the perverse clutches of George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), a neighbor of the Salmon family. After the squatty and bespectacled Harvey kills Susie, she is whirled into a sort of bombastic world full of tumultuous seas and planet-sized record players. Her killer, due to the misfortunes of her case, was never found. Because of this, Susie prances around in a malleable world that, because of her ever changing emotional state, becomes either enchantingly beautiful or monochrome and drab. In the real world, Susie’s father, Jack (Mark Wahlberg), starts his own feverish investigation into the case of his daughter’s killer. Harvey, all the while, meanders around in his house, dodging detectives and doing menial yard work.

From what people have told me – and I’m totally looking at this from an objective standpoint – Sebold’s book is a more visceral, unflinching depiction of a family’s loss. I cant really say, one way or another, if this is true. What I do know is that Jackson’s interpretation is a mixed bag. The visuals look like Jackson ripped out the soul of “What Dreams May Come” and planted it into the body of “The Lovely Bones“. The buoyant colors, whisked into sleepy mountains and sparkling rivers, all come to life in a sort of stale reinvention of an older picture. Nothing of real innovation or style happens in the dream-like sequences of Susie, despite the amount of time the film spends there. There is one particular shot, during a more tumultuous time in ’the in between’, where giant ships, trapped in bottles, crash into the rocks of a desolate beach. It’s a kind of interesting collaboration of washed out and dreary colors, mashing together with the thunder of intense violence. Actually, the scene sort of reminded me of something Salvador Dali would paint – this sequence was the only thing even remotely worth remembering. Susie reflects a lot in the movie, in a series of voiceovers, that weave in and out of the movie’s narrative. Much of the time her voice, spoken with reverberations, spirals over ambient noises and detached musical notes. It’s one of the neater touches that Jackson employed to make Susie’s reflections seem ethereal and spectral-like.

As far as the real world goes, things get a little messy. Wahlberg’s portrayal as Susie’s forlorn father is basically awful. Wahlberg’s suggested expressions of despair and aggression, during even his best moments on screen, look condescending. I don’t know what it is, but, during all of Wahlberg’s expositions, he sounds like he is mocking his own acting abilities.

Luckily Stanley Tucci, in one of the best performances of his career, offsets Marky Mark’s clumsy nosedive into mediocrity. Tucci embodies the vulgar, cryptic, meticulous behavior of a serial killer from hell. Tucci’s facial tics, starting with his crooked smile and ending with his furrowed eyebrows, lend a menacing hand to the sociopath’s handbook of being creepy. The quivering voice, lackadaisical eyes, deliberate attention to detail are all unnerving – and convincing – instances of Tucci’s transformation. As if the idea of an older man, building dollhouses in his poorly lit home, wasn’t questionable enough – Tucci brings all of the aforementioned traits to the big screen in a way that is atrocious as it is impressive. I’m sure it doesn’t help that he has a sweaty mustache, but that’s just me.

For the first half of “The Lovely Bones”, the pacing is adequate and the minor blemishes are forgivable. In the second half, with the help of some illogical plot devices, the movie made me want to throw a bushel of Acme dynamite into the projectionist’s booth. I wont give anything away here, but if you see the movie you’ll know what I’m referring to. The sequence was reminiscent of “The Untouchables” baby stroller moment – but with a different object.

I should really commend the performances of Tucci and Ronan. I can only wish that Wahlberg was replaced with clips of his performance in “The Basketball Diaries” – even out of context it would be more believable. If you like Sebold’s book, you should see this movie, if not just for the sake of conversation. If you haven’t read the book, I wont send you away from the idea of watching the adaptation, especially since there are some good moments in the film.

Don’t expect anything grandiose, and you should be set to go.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

Share This Post On

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *