Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Lovely Bones

Myy thoughts on/ review of Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. Today I'm experimenting with the format again, which I'll keep doing. And I'm totally dispensing with writing original plot summaries, and so I shall continue to plagiarize Berardinelli from, because he does a good job writing them. Today's format is, perhaps ironically, brought to you by a Sergio Leone movie that I haven't seen.

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones is the second movie directed by Peter Jackson since LotR, after 2005's King Kong. Based on Alice Sebold's novel (which I have not read), the film was released during prime Oscar bait territory in December 2009, but was widely panned by critics, ending up a fairly terrible 33% on RottenTomatoes. While there are some problems with RT that go beyond mere concerns of elitism, I still went into it with low expectations. Much to my surprise, I ended up really liking it, enough that I added it to my all-time top 100 (currently at spot 83). But it also has some legitimate and fairly large flaws. So before I got into a few specifics, be warned: this is one that I liked but a lot of much more knowledgeable people did not. Disclaimer over.

The narrator, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), opens the movie by informing us that she's dead. In fact, she tells us the day of her death: December 6, 1973 (at the age of 14). The first quarter of the film provides a flavor of who Susie is by depicting incidents from her life: how her quick thinking saves her little brother, how she harbors a crush on a boy at school, and how she and her father share a passion for art (he is obsessed with building ships in bottles; her hobby is photography). Then, one day on her way home from school, she is waylaid by a nebbish neighbor, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). He lures her into an underground room, and that's the last we see of her alive. Her disappearance and apparent death sunder the family. Abigail (Rachel Weisz), Susie's mother, packs up and leaves. Jack (Mark Wahlberg), Susie's father, stews in a vat of self-recrimination, believing himself to be somehow responsible. And Lindsey (Rose McIver), Susie's sister, harbors suspicions about Harvey that she does little to hide. This makes her a potential target. Meanwhile, in the afterlife, Susie watches all of these things transpire while interacting with her new dead BFF, Holly (Nikki SooHoo).

The Good:

*To begin with, I was beyond impressed by Saoirse Ronan. Ronan, who was 14 or 15 when the movie during filming, completely owns this movie. She is the lead, and has to play a fairly complicated role that, among others, requires her character to deal with her own death (and probably rape, but that is only hinted at in the movie, allegedly due to worries from Ronan's parents). But she totally nails it with a nuanced, emotional, and charismatic performance. Any scene that she's in is enjoyable, and I got the sense that had Jackson cast a lesser actress here the movie may have legitimately become a mess. As good as she was in Atonement, she's better her, and I expect great things from her in years to come. If only all child actors were as good.

*It's a PJ film so I oughtn't be surprised, but the visual effects in the In Between (a sort of shiny purgatory where Susie resides after her death) are spectacular. But beyond that, the movie manages to create a fantastic sense of atmosphere in this imaginative afterlife with both visual and musical cues, which combine nicely with Ronan's narration and acting to give a surprisingly poignant picture of who exactly this young girl was.

fits into a sort of subtype of film that I happen to particularly enjoy. I'm generally a sucker for movies that take a sort of contemplative approach to a person's life. Movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Shawshank Redemption, The Aviator, Millenium Actress, and Citizen Kane are some of my favorite movies, and they all do this at least in part.

The Bad/Ugly:

*The big, glaring problem with The Lovely Bones is it's incredibly erratic tone, and there is no way of getting around that. As one would expect from the premise, Bones is a dark movie, and even the moments of joy (and there are some) are tempered by tragedy. But the movie seems to forget this. A few times it tries to inject some suspense with the interaction between Mr. Harvey and Susie's sister, which work in isolation but don't fit well into the larger movie. But much, much worse are the scenes with Susie's grandmother, played by Susan Sarandon. During some the movie becomes downright farcical, especially during a horrible scene shortly after Susie's murder. Granny moves into the house and tries to take over some maternal responsibility, only to comically fail at something so easy as laundry. And she lights breakfast on fire! How Silly! I felt like yakkity sax should have been playing. Mercifully, she has a relatively small role. (Also, Mark Wahlberg probably wasn't the best choice. Ronan acts so many circles around him I half-expected Marky-Mark to go crosseyed).

Verdict: A polarizing movie to be sure. Someone who likes introspective pseudo-existentialist biographical movies will, I imagine, like this one as much as I did. If you are more lukewarm to them, then perhaps not.

8/10 Very Good.

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