Watching Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones is like dreaming. Sometimes you feel like what is happening is of the most dire importance of your life, and other times you are barely paying attention. Sometimes you begin to space out as the scenes drag on, and other times your leg jerks uncontrollably as your brain experiences psychological panic. And every now and then, you go from idea to idea, scene to scene, and though everything seems disconnected and random, you never really think about it until you have woken up.
That's why it took me so long to come up with a rating for this movie. I had to debate for almost two entire days whether it was a masterpiece or it was the biggest piece of garbage I'd seen in a while. Only a director like Peter Jackson could do that to me. Now, I haven't read Alice Sebold's novel off of which it was based, but I have heard that it is an absolute work of brilliance. So I can only assume that this is another classic example of a movie not doing the source material justice. Ironic though, since I believe one of the few examples of movies being better than what they were based on was Peter Jackson's earlier masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And the story here is a dark one... sort of. Susie Salmon, played by Saoirse Ronan (pronounced 'Sur-Shuh'), is a 14 year-old girl, who within the first 30 minutes of this nearly 2 and half hour movie is captured, raped, and brutally murdered.
When Susie dies, however, she does not go to heaven. Instead, she finds herself for the rest of the movie in a place she calls 'The In-Between'. This place of absolutely breath-taking visual effects is a beautiful one. Scenery constantly changes and transforms from one gorgeous place to the next, and it almost seems like Heaven. Except for the fact that Susie can look in on the world and watch her family (Her father played by Mark Wahlberg and her mother played by Rachel Weisz) struggling to cope.
The other thing that is torturous to watch for Susie, and here's where almost all of the movie's problems stem from, is her newfound crush Ray (Reece Ritchie). I've never seen Ritchie in a movie before, but it is certainly clear that he studied with Robert Pattinson at the How To Look and Act Like as Much of a Douchebag as Possible When On Screen Academy. Oh man, I hated this guy. His acting was ridiculously over-the-top, and his his facial expressions were out of control. The real crux of Susie's struggle watching earth is not her family's struggle, no, it is the fact that SHE NEVER GOT KISS THIS GUY.
... I KNOW.
I can only imagine that in the book there is a beautiful love story that is told between the two of them. But in the movie they speak ONE TIME, and only for about 5 minutes. This is not enough development to make me buy the fact that Susie's character arc centers around her first kiss with this prick. And when the ending rolled around, all I could do was throw my hands up in the air and shout "WHAT?" You'll understand when you see it.
Fortunately, the problems pretty much end there. The strengths of this movie lie with the incredible mind-blowing visuals and the performances of Ronan and surprisingly enough Susie's murderer, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). I've always loved Stanley Tucci, but his character in this is off the charts in terms of creepiness. And he's absolutely fantastic. I don't want to spoil anything, but if you see this movie, you will know what I mean. Lord oh lord, is he scary. I really hope to see a best supporting actor nomination for this role. Ronan is really good as well. Her accent is so flawless that I had absolutely no idea that she is really Irish. She's been really solid in her last couple of movies, and it's impressive to see such talent for such a young actress. Well done, well done, well done.
I must note another area in which the movie was surprisingly effective. When Jackson wanted you on the edge of your seat, YOU WERE ON THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT. The scene building up to Susie's murder was so well done and suspenseful, I doubt Wes Craven could have done it better. Peter Jackson has truly made his mark as one of our generation's most terrific and visionary directors.
There ya go folks. If you read the book, you may be disappointed. If you like a cohesive story and young actors who don't make pouty faces for no reason, you might be disappointed. But if you like remarkable visuals and solid acting, go ahead and see it. It's not a waste of money. But it certainly is not an investment.
The Lovely Bones hits theaters January 15.