DIR: Peter Jackson • WRI: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson • PRO: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Aimée Peyronnet, Fran Walsh • DOP: Andrew Lesnie • ED: Jabez Olssen • DES: Naomi Shohan • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci
There is coldness at the heart of Peter Jackson’s new film as he presents his unappealing, vacuous, schmaltzy interpretation of a teenage girl’s afterlife alongside her abduction, rape and murder. It is a stomach-churning conflation of emotions that sends out far too many mixed signals throughout the film.
Saoirse Ronan plays Susie Salmon, a teenage girl in 1970’s white, picket-fence, suburban America, who is the victim of a heinous crime. After her murder, she finds herself in an afterlife limbo where she staggers between two states: her fantasies of lollipops, fashion, make-up and pop music with her other serial-killer-victim friends; and her need to find closure for both her and her family and expose her killer. Ok. New dress and a boogie? Find closure and expose killer? Oh, what to do…?
And so with the murder dealt with early on, The Lovely Bones proceeds to present the audience with the spectacle of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of an adolescent’s afterlife, as Salmon looks down on her mourning family from above. The special effects deployed to showcase Salmon’s afterlife fantasy world where everything is fine (all thanks to being brutally murdered) sees Jackson lose the plot and mishandle an embarrassing display of tacky hogwash. The scenes are crassly manufactured and rather than the visual feast Jackson laid on for us in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, we are instead served crude slop.
The film does nothing to justify its 135-minute running time. It’s all a bit of a mess – on earth as it is in limbo – with its awkward pacing, inconsequential supporting characters, unexplained and illogical actions, and an amazing ability to ignore the bleedin’ obvious. The story stumbles around the place crying out for the support of a better editor. The ending of the film is stretched out over a number of half-baked resolutions and descends into farce. And I have to mention that at one point Jackson steals David Lynch’s use of This Mortal Coil’s beautiful ‘Song to the Siren’. What for Lynch was a paean to unfulfilled desire becomes for Jackson a maudlin dirge for group hugs.
On the one plus side, Saoirse Ronan puts in a staggeringly emotive performance and consistently demonstrates the strengths of her acting talents. She elevates the material above the crass schlock it operates as. Apart from her performance, this film has Stanley Tucci playing the bespectacled, balding, neighbourhood weirdo with a performance straight from ‘Pervs R Us’ that Hollywood has produced so many times in its usual unsubtle way (God knows why he was nominated for an Oscar®). Mark Wahlberg has mastered the art of forehead acting and his cracking-up, vengeful father never rises beyond his limitations as an actor. Rachel Weisz gives nothing and seems to want nothing from the film; indeed she disappears from the family home at some stage. Susan Sarandon camps it up as the boozy jive-talking mother in her grating comic cameo role that merely adds to the whole distasteful tone of the film.
Hard to believe The Lovely Bones comes from the same director behind Heavenly Creatures. Whereas one is a fiendishly enchanting and imaginative exploration of adolescence, the other is nothing short of tasteless drivel. Perhaps David St. Hubbins was right in This is Spinal Tap when he said, ‘It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever’.
The Lovely Bones is released 19th Feb 2010