Most moves made in Hollywood these days are either plucked from the pages of a Marvel comic book or are based on source material (a novel). The reason is obvious: These stories have hard-core, built-in audiences that are almost sure bets for the exec’s to, at minimum, make a return on their investment — and many “franchises” go on to boffo box office grosses (Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, etc.).
The Lovely Bones is not one of those movies; although, it did manage to squeak out about 30 million bucks profit. It was released in 2009 to some pretty tepid reviews, deservedly so (we’ll get into that soon).
The movie is based on a novel penned by Alice Sebold. The premise is nothing short of awesome: A 13 year-old-girl, Susie Salmon, “like the fish,” (Saoirse Ronan) is murdered, and her soul resides in a sort of “purgatory,” while she’s able to view her family, and murder, deal with the repercussions of the act. Only after she’s able to “convince” her family (and herself) to let go, will she ascend to Heaven. If I would have come up with that premise, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.
As they taught me in story analysis class, let’s start out with what’s amazing about this movie. In short, the scenes after Susie’s death, as she roams from one stunning set piece to another, are incredible. The colors are so vibrant and “alive,” it’s as if one would desire these settings to be Heaven. Some critics complained there were so many different “locations” she traveled through, it was confusing (God help ‘em if they ever viewed one of the greatest movies ever made, Mulholland Drive). B.S.! These scenes rival Avatar for artistic wonderment, taking the viewer to places they’ve probably never dreamed of, but wish they had. If these scenes were shot in 3D, they very well could have made Avatar look like a kid tinkering with the latest Apple iMovie software. (I’m not a huge fan of Crow’s latest).
Also, when Susie attempts to interact with her family and helplessly screams instructions to them are very touching. As the movie progresses, one can’t help but feel her loss of what could have been a wonderful and fruitful life. At least, in one of the movie’s hokey, final scenes, she does realize one of her human desires. Way to go Susie!
Finally, Susie’s voice-over (obviously text from the novel) is excellent. The emotions in her words are astounding and add much-needed depth to the experience. (It’s funny, in class, they instructed us to stay away from-voice over, and a hell of a lot of movies these days have, you guessed it, voice-over)
The problems with the movie are many. Mainly, the narrative is so jumbled; the movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.
The first act sets-up the almost too happy family, consisting of father, Jack Salmon (Mark Wahlberg), wife Abigail (Rachel Weisz), little sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) and little brother Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale). Honestly, Lindsey pops into the movie literally out of nowhere; she appears like a magic trick about fifteen minutes into the flick.
Susie is murdered by a very creepy George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), and the chase begins to find the killer, headed by Detective Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli). OK, we have a serial killer drama on our hands. Then, we jump back and forth between Susie’s world and the “real” world. OK, now we have a mystical journey. After realizing who killed his daughter, Jack takes matters into his own hands and is hell-bent on revenge. OK, now we have a “pissed off father looking to kill the murder of his daughter” movie on our hands. After Jack’s alcoholic mother, Grandma Lynn (Susan Sarandon) moves in, Abigail decides to move to Northern California and pick grapes. What? (The movie takes place in the ‘70’s, but a hot, white chick picking grapes? I’m not buyin’ it.). The Sarandon character is so far removed from the picture, it takes the viewer out to Starbucks for a Latte, while there could be a very touching movie going on here. And finally, Tucci, in my estimation, gobbles up more screen time than our heroine, Susie.
Any one of the above topics could be an entire movie in itself, and I blame the screenwriters and director, Peter Jackson, for not reigning in the runaway plots and keeping to the main throughline: Susie interacting with her family. When she does, the movie is riveting, but she only does this for maybe 10 minutes of screen time. This is a huge mistake, as Saoirse Ronan is so damn good in this movie, one has to hold back the desire to jump at the screen and kiss her.
I didn’t read the novel, but I’m betting that those who did were not all too pleased with the film. Source material can be held accountable as in Revolutionary Road, or take wide turns, as in Sideways. With three credited “professional” screenwriters attached to this film, I just can’t believe they were true to the novel.
I very much enjoyed the film; I just believe those in charge really blew an opportunity to make an incredible movie.
I give it three beers out of a six pack due to the riveting scenery and Ronan’s awesome performance.