Movie Review: The Lovely Bones

Soarise Ronan in Peter Jackson's film of The Lovely Bones/ courtesy Paramount Pictures
Soarise Ronan in Peter Jackson's film of The Lovely Bones
courtesy Paramount Pictures

” My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

Thus the voiceover begins Peter Jackson’s film version of the Alice Sebold novel, The Lovely Bones. The book follows Susie as she watches over her family dealing with her murder and follows her father’s quest to find her murderer. Considering the horrifically difficult subject the book was oddly beautiful and the family’s journey to resolution was riveting.

The film, though it tries so hard, is beautiful to watch but is much less riveting.

Susie has been murdered by — and it’s no secret — Mr. Harvey, the creepy man who lives diagonally across the street. He did it by luring her into a secluded space, then raping, murdering and dismembering her. We are luckily spared the last three acts of brutality. But, speaking to us from the “in-between,” that place where unsettled souls wait for…..something…..Susie oddly refers to Harvey as “my murderer,” as if he were one of her possessions.

We join Susie watching her father’s growing rage, her mother’s growing walking catatonia and her sister’s frustration. Life in the Salmon home will never be the same again. Susie’s in-between is reminiscent of Dr. Parnassus’ Imaginarium — all beauty and lovely colors, appearing and disappearing objects and with her telling us the story as it happens we are, like she, trapped in someplace “in-between.”

Fifteen year-old Soarise Ronan — whom most of us first met in Atonement — is Susie and she is wonderful at being Susie. The quietly remarkable actor Stanley Tucci is Mr. Harvey and they are the two fully realized characters in the film.

The rest — Mark Wahlberg as her father, Rachel Weisz as her mother, Michael Imperioli, strangely impotent as the police investigator, Susan Sarandon as her drunken harridan of a grandmother and Rose McIver as her sister Lindsey — are like paper dolls moving through one of Mr. Harvey’s dollhouses. Except for Lindsay’s character coming alive in the last few minutes, we get a better sense of the landscape than we do of the people who populate it.

There is, in the end, lots of beautiful style and not enough substance here. It may be that the narration of the victim tends to separate us from the action. But, whatever it is, the audience sees, for example, the father’s rage, but we never feel it. And that is a pity. The book was so moving, so engaging. And, at 2:20 or so, it reminds us that this was directed by the man who did the very large, very long Lord of The Rings trilogy. Clearly his vision is much more suitable to such large projects.

The Lovely Bones should have been smaller, more engaging and placed more emphasis on substance. As is, it is very beautiful, but it’s all bones, no meat.