The Lovely Bones opens with the mildly whispered voice of the film’s central character Susie Salmon, played by Saorise Ronan. Immediately you think to yourself that this character works part time laying down voiceover tracks for yoga and meditation CDs, but then you come to the realization that she is in fact, dead, and she is talking in her “afterlife voice.” Salmon serves as our spirit guide as she takes us into the story of her life, tragic death and beyond. The story is compelling but it could definitely use some work in the execution category.
In the film, Salmon introduces us to her normal everyday life filled with pictures, boys and loving parents, played by Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz. She’s shy but at the same time, full of life as she aims to capture the world through the lens of her camera. However, it all comes crashing down when she crosses paths with a deranged neighbor, Stanley Tucci, who brutally murders her and hides her body. Trapped in a blissful purgatory-like state, Salmon must try and forge a connection to her family to keep the psychopath from killing again, before she can truly move on.
Peter Jackson, as to be expected, lends his knack for visuals to the film. Salmon’s not-quite-heaven world is filled with vibrant colors and landscapes that hearken back to the underrated What Dreams May Come starring Robin Williams. The tones of her dreamland shift radically depending on her state. The world shines when she’s happily frolicking with another spirit serving as her travel agent to heaven, and the world becomes gray and baron as she becomes angry and fearful about the man the ended her life.
It’s all pretty to look at but subtlety is not the film’s strong point, it seems content in bashing audiences over the head with its symbolism in Salmon’s afterlife. It’s like Peter Jackson is saying “Did you get the symbol? Did you you get it? Well here’s another symbol just in case you didn’t get the first. Did you get this one?” There’s symbolism, and then there’s “Why not just make a picture book instead of a movie with dialogue?”
What really kills the film is how none of the focus seemed trained on the real world where the living characters are still in some sense of danger living next to a psycho killer. Most of the performances are flat, being led by Mark Wahlberg who has become very hit and miss lately in his roles. The only real great performances come from Tucci as an utterly believable maniac, and Susan Sarandon as the eccentric grandmother that truthfully, has no reason to be in the film whatsoever save the fact that there needed to be a goofy montage with her as the domestic lady of the house while the parents cope with the loss of their daughter.
The only actual time the real world becomes interesting, is when Tucci is on screen. We watch him as he methodically plans his murders and becomes increasingly paranoid that his exploits are going to be discovered by the members of Susie’s family.
Ronan as Susie Salmon anchors the film. Her glassy-eyed performance really takes you in as she struggles emotionally to cope with the fact that she is dead. Her calming voice is a great choice for narration giving ease to a number of very tense moments in the film, most involving Tucci. Ronan really captures the innocence of her character, she’s small, plucky and emotional leading to a believable characterization of a normal 14-year-old girl that is preoccupied with having her first kiss.
The Lovely Bones is certainly an unbalanced film. The afterlife is what the film seems to be focused on, and though it’s something to see, it lends nothing to the actual story. The real world is dull and fairly unbelievable, there is no real sense of time, that is until someone conveniently says out loud that time has passed. The family, despite saying they are trying to cope, don’t really look like they are that upset that one of their own is dead and buried somewhere.
The film, though compelling in parts, could have done with better performances and a better focus from a truly talented director. The Lovely Bones is definitely watchable, but certainly forgettable.