Andy Bockelman: ‘Lovely Bones’ features fractured storytelling

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Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

'The Lovely Bones'

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

Running time: 135 minutes

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Saoirse Ronan and Stanley Tucci

It’s tough to blend the themes of utter repulsion and unconditional love in a movie.

“The Lovely Bones” shows how the combination can be detrimental to what is basically a solid story.

The Salmon family is the average, picture-perfect clan of 1970s Pennsylvania.

Parents Jack and Abigail (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz) deal with the usual amount of childhood issues from daughters Susie and Lindsey (Saoirse Ronan, Rose McIver) and son Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale), so when Susie doesn’t come right home from school one day, they aren’t immediately worried.

But, the entire family’s life is thrown into disarray when they find out that she’s never coming home again.

Raped and murdered by a neighbor (Stanley Tucci), Susie passes into another world, a dimension where her spirit can observe the rest of the Salmons as they continue their lives without her.

But, a dark cloud hangs over both sides of existence, as Susie’s killer gets away with his crime scot-free, and Jack’s obsession with solving the case threatens to tear his family apart.

Ronan’s heartfelt performance is the glue that holds everything together in this story. The young actress captures Susie’s exuberance in both life and limbo, as well as the anguish she undergoes in being so close to her parents and siblings and never being able to make contact.

Wahlberg’s showing as her grief-stricken father is erratic and ineffective in comparison, as he never effectively unleashes Jack’s heartache nor the fixation that takes over his life.

What’s worse, Weisz doesn’t even get the same opportunity to show her prowess as she is consigned to a secondary role as a mother who retreats into herself following the loss of her child.

Every chance she has to shine, she is lost in the fray, as Susan Sarandon upstages her constantly as Abigail’s hard-drinking mother, who tries and fails to help the family heal.

Meanwhile, McIver’s steady performance as middle child Lindsey is almost upended by Tucci, who is all too convincing as the kind of quiet, friendly neighbor you’d never expect to do something so horrible.

At least not 35 years ago.

Nowadays, his look and mannerisms would scream, “sociopathic pedophile.”

Director Peter Jackson does a fine job in setting the scene for this tale of a sexual predator living in the days before society was on the lookout for such individuals. In fact, the initial setup works so well it causes the entire movie to peak far too early.

The interest in the Salmons, alive and otherwise, fades more and more as Jackson overcomplicates and overextends practically every scene. Susie’s experiences in the “in-between,” — a stunningly beautiful, imaginative place filled with fragments of the real world’s past, present and future — are stunted by the ugly events tying together the lives of her family and murderer, which prevent her from moving on to the next level of the afterlife.

If not for the numerous subplots, it could work well enough, but it’s all too much to take.

In adapting Alice Sebold’s novel, Jackson and his usual co-writers, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, strain the central skeletal story of “The Lovely Bones.”

Although the imagery is evocative, it doesn’t leave much of an impression when there’s nothing to support it.

It may work in print, but on screen it’s far too drawn out.

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