The Lovely Bones
Ben Kenigsberg reviews Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones.
It’s easy to think of ways in which the film version of Alice Sebold’s best-seller could have gone wrong, but Jackson’s intriguing misfire of an adaptation devises new ones. At first, the movie conjures a ’70s mood as coolly enigmatic as anything in The Virgin Suicides; the story—in which 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Ronan) is murdered by her owlish neighbor (Tucci), then observes what happens afterward as she climbs to heaven—feels surprisingly mystical and unlabored (perhaps because Wahlberg, as the grieving father, underplays too much).
The inert, effects-laden afterlife sequences suggest that Jackson badly needed a green-screen sabbatical, and it is refreshing to see him mostly working on a smaller scale— The Lovely Bones is closer to Heavenly Creatures than the computer-generated awe of Lord of the Rings and King Kong. You can even forgive some tonal schizophrenia, especially when Sarandon (as Susie’s raucous grandmother) is being such a good sport.
No, The Lovely Bones is done in by more conventional problems of compression. It’s not Jackson’s elision of the novel’s rape, a decision that seems less an evasion than a stylistic choice. It’s that he’s jettisoned the last third of the book, rendering the material totally incoherent. In a story about grieving, an additional ten years makes a big difference. Ladling uplift over tragedy, a film that might have seemed exploitative now seems simply bizarre.