A Review of "The Lovely Bones" Starring Saoirse Ronan

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I'm one of the five or six people out there who hasn't read the bestselling novel, "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold.  That's one reason I was excited about the film version.   After all, I didn't have the book to cloud my judgment of the movie.  The other reason I was excited was because the movie was directed by Peter Jackson who's the Oscar winning director of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

But you might be asking yourself, if I never read the book, how am I going to help out those who did read it?  Well I saw the film with my friend Lucy who has read the book, so I'll give you her take as well.

The Los Angeles Premiere Of The Lovely Bones

"The Lovely Bones" is about the murder of a 14-year-old girl and the effect it has on her family.  What's unique in the book and in the film is that the story is told by the murdered girl herself.  Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) narrates her experiences and observations as she exists in a nether world between the land of the living and what we perceive to be heaven. 

Meanwhile her family, devastated by their loss, splinters into varying levels of grief.  Susie's mother, Abigail (Rachel Weisz) eventually leaves the family to find relief, while Susie's father, Jack (Mark Wahlberg) becomes obsessed with finding her killer.

And he doesn't have far to look.  The killer, as Susie tells us at the beginning of the movie is the Salmon's neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci).

Saoirse (pronounced sear-sha) Ronan is the young Oscar nominated actress from the 2007 film, "Atonement."  Based on her performance in "The Lovely Bones," she should be guaranteed another wakeup call from the Academy on Oscar nomination morning.  Susie's the linchpin of the entire movie and without Ronan's fantastic performance the movie would never have gotten off the ground.  She effortlessly brings the sweet and girlish Susie to life and never looks like she's acting.

The rest of the film's effectiveness is derived from expert directing, acting and editing.   The anticipation of Susie's murder is especially harrowing and when Harvey traps Susie in his meticulously decorated, homemade tomb, it's so claustrophobic, we feel like we're trapped with him as well. 

Mercifully the movie spares us the details of the attack that are evidently so horrifying in the book, and for that Holly at A Writer's Ambition is grateful:

Now,  some critics are upset because they believe the version Jackson has made is 'watered down' because it apparently isn't violent enough and hardly like the book. But Jackson explains that while he tried sketching that terrible scene into the computer, it struck a bad chord. Quoted from Entertainment Weekly, co-producer Fran Walsh makes the statement, "We literally had crew walking out... it was so horrible. When you read something in a book, you can choose to visualize it as much or as little as you want. It's very different when it's 50 feet wide in a cinema."

I agree and frankly I need to ask the question, why is there a need to show this kind of violence on television? A director shows discernment when making a film and he gets bashed for it. Simply baffling.

Tucci's very good as the deceptively normal neighbor who hides his heinous secret behind a mask of dollhouse building, and a pristine household.  When you think that his other major role this year was as Julia Child's sweet and adoring husband in "Julie and Julia", you realize what a versatile actor he really is.

When my friend Lucy saw the trailers for the movie she was disappointed because she thought the film would be too fanciful.  But Jackson skillfully uses his leftover CGI mojo from the "Rings" trilogy in a way that enhances instead of detracts. 

For example after Susie's death there's one stunning sequence when Jack smashes his collection of model ships in bottles that he and Susie worked on together.   As Susie watches, she experiences the scene in the midst of a mystical ocean, full-sized versions of the bottles crashing and cracking in the waves.

However, the film ultimately works because Jackson's smart enough to withdraw from Susie's world anytime it appears the audience might forget what's happening in the real world.  And Susie's lyrical narration is an integral part of that. 

By the end of the movie, Lucy declared she liked it very much.

So did I.

 

Related Links:

Female First, "Tucci's Wife Advised Against "The Lovely Bones" Role

Celebrity Parenting, Rachel Weisz talks about her love.

Rama at Rama's Screen didn't like the CGI work in "The Lovely Bones"

 

Megan Smith is the BlogHer Contributing Editor covering Television/Online Video.     Her other blogs are Megan's Minute, quirky commentary around the clock and Meg's Rad Review.

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