I just got back from watching “The Lovely Bones.” Apparently it is based on a novel. And apparently that novel was very good. I wouldn’t know. I have not read the novel and knew really nothing about the movie going into it. I knew three things: Mark Walbherg (or however you spell his name) was in it. It was directed by Peter Jackson of The Frighteners fame, and it was about a little girl who was killed but hadn’t moved onto heaven, or something like that. Too bad I can’t watch the novel because the movie, well, see the title of this post again if you are unsure as to whether or not I liked it.
From the beginning it is clear that this is not going to be a very good movie. Its starts with the ill-fated Susie Salmon narrating about her life and telling us that she was murdered on December 6th, 1973. She then brings us quickly (but bot quickly enough) to the time surrounding her death. Susie is an artistic little girl, and her art form is choice is photography. She is shown constantly taking pictures of everything around her, and she says that when she grows up she wants to be a wildlife photographer and chase rhinos and such. As far as scene-setting and character development are concerned, these scenes work all right. Though one of her photography sessions involves her riding her bike and taking pictures of her mother and father and their neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) in the best role/performance in the movie as the man who murders young Susie, and it gets repeated so often that one has to wonder why Jackson decided to use the rest of the movie at all. I mean, it is pretty clear that this is his favorite scene, or the one he feels to be the most important, and while it does have some bearing on the movie, it did not need to be revisited like six times. The person I watched this movie with leaned in and said “How many times do we have to watch this part?” at one point. I laughed in agreement and assessment.
We see that her father Jack (Walhberg), and her mother–so underdeveloped as a character that I have forgotten her name (Rachael Weiz) are caring parents, but we also see, in one of the film’s few visual gags, that in the course of twelve years and three children their passions have suffered. He goes from being a sex hound to a tired man sleeping next to his wife instead of pumping away at her as often as possible. And we see her exchange Camus for books on how to better raise children. Cliche? No doubt, but it happens so fast, in the course of one shot, that it can be seen as almost clever and interesting. Inevitably, and kind of soon, Susie gets murdered, and the scene with her and Tucci leading up to the murder is satisfyingly tense and creepy even though you already know that she is dead. It might also be implied that she was raped, but I am not so sure about that. If she was raped, then I am glad we did not have to see that.
Susie narrates her story from the blue place in between heaven and earth. She has not moved on to heaven yet because she still has some connection to the terrestrial world. That connection? She wants her murderer (as she constantly refers to him. It’s all, my murderer this and my murderer that) punished and for her parents to move on with their lives. Or at least I think that is what prevents her from making the decision to move on into heaven. I am not really sure, though, as this point (like much of the rest of the movie) is murky. This in between place is beautiful and happy and scary and sad. Susie finds a friend who calls herself Holly Golightly (obviously not her real name, and fact the filmmakers saw fit to draw attention to–hmmm…she couldn’t be another victim of the same monster that killed Susie could she?) and together they laugh and play in this wondrous afterlife, sledding down mountains, hanging out in a gazebo, and not going to heaven.
I know that the death of a 14 year old is a tragic thing, but this movies seems to make it seem okay or even desirable. After all, Susie is relatively happy in the netherworld and she can move on to heaven whenever she wants. It is her grieving parents and sister and brother that must bear the burden of her death–especially considering a body is never found. This leads Wahlberg’s character to invoke Movie Cliche 203–father goes on a hunt for justice. This isn’t your Charles Bronson Death Wish hunt for justice. Rather it is a weak and hurried subplot that only serves to demonstrate that Jack has indeed been unable to let the memory of his murdered daughter rest. Susie just stands in hr gazebo in the afterlife, happily whiling eternity and waiting for the time when she feels good about making the decision to move on and head to heaven proper instead of just existing in its suburbs.
Susan Sarandon shows up at some point as the plucky clown like Grandma who is there to help the family get through this tumultuous time. These scenes consist of her doing housework, drinking anything that has the slightest bit of booze in it, and bonding with the family. As I watched this part of the film I could not help but think these scenes belonged in another movie. Maybe one like Stepmom (which also starred Saradon). I have not seen Stepmom, but I am willing to bet that it is a much more enjoyable, as well as a much better, film than this stinking shit pile called “The Lovely Bones.”
Here is the trailer, if for some reason you still have any interest in this movie.