Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Director Report Card: Peter Jackson (2009)

11. The Lovely Bones

As a fan who prefers Jackson’s earlier work to his “Lord of the Rings”-era output, I was looking forward to “The Lovely Bones,” a return to his smaller roots. When the trailer hit, and it became apparent that this was a deliberate return to “Heavenly Creatures” territory, I became even more excited.

And then bad review after bad review hit. “The Lovely Bones” does not deserves the scorn that’s been tossed at it. It’s an inconsistent film, extremely uneven, filled with a number of fantastic sequences which are immediately bordered by frustrating ones.

The most awkward aspect is Susie Salmon’s narration from the afterlife. What we have here is a narrator existing in her own plotline, a voiceover with an inner-life, a protagonist that is divorced from the story proper for the majority of the runtime. Often, the detached sequences of heaven completely hijack the story’s pacing. Voiceover is overused and several moments, such as when Susie’s father lights a candle in his room, would have been exponentially improved with the talking excised. The day-glo, disco heaven is another problem. I can’t deny that the effects laden afterlife is something a thirteen year old girl from the seventies would’ve thought of, but it comes off as extremely goofy on-screen. Susan Sarandon’s character, the hard-drinking, chain-smoking grandmother, is a bad addition. Such a broad caricature breaks the tone in half and the montage after her arrival, of the character neglecting and screwing up housewife activity, belongs in another friggin’ movie. Sequences in the late second act, after her family grows and changes, feels extraneous. The movie is a little long and could’ve easily clipped twenty minutes.

These flat moments are all the more frustrating when other parts of the movie are so damn good. The beginning and entire first act is uniformly strong, with the best use of montage in a flick that sometimes makes clumsy work of it. The moments leading up to the murder are skin-crawlingly intense and amazingly uncomfortable. When Susie looks down on her family as they finally move on with their lives, that’s kinda’ beautiful. The opening of the vault and, later on, the disposal of that vault, are both poetic and lyrical. Her father running out into the cornfield with the bat, powered by a raging guitar soundtrack, is another intense moment. When we learn of Mr. Harvey’s long list of victims, it’s disturbing. Finally, the best of the best, is the climatic moment of Susie’s sister breaking into Harvey’s house.

The cast is problematic. Saoirse Ronan is quite good. Her big bright blue eyes are full of whimsy but her eventual anger is under conveyed. Stanley Tucci is greasy great, child molester sleazy, easily the strongest performance in the flick. The character’s eventual fate is a completely unnecessary scene that feels very bitter and takes the picture out on a sour note. Mark Walberg just doesn’t bring the required intensity and seems much too young for the part. Rachel Weiz doesn’t get much to do but look pretty. Rose Mclver underplays it successfully.

“The Lovely Bones” is a disappointment in some ways. It’s occasionally brilliant but undone but a number of faulty narrative devices. When is Peter Jackson going to do a horror movie again?
[Grade: B-]

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