After initial footage of the Lovely Bones was released before Christmas, it looked like the film was going to be a shoo in for the Oscars. Based on a best selling novel – check, award baiting cast (Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Saoise Ronan) – check, multi award winning director (Peter Jackson) – check. A perfect spine then, but sadly the sum of the bones has failed to create a good skeleton.
When 14 year old Susie Salmon (Ronan) is murdered, instead of going to heaven she watches over her family and murderer (a creepy Stanley Tucci) with her soul trapped between the worlds – until Susie can help her mourning father to find her missing body.
Ronan is the best thing about the movie. Having to spend most of the running time acting against CGI backdrops, the teenager shows us Susie’s fear, confusion, wonder and ultimate realisation of the missing element stopping her from going to heaven. She is one to keep an eye on.
Using his New Zealand stomping ground, Peter Jackson crafts a visually gorgeous dream like world, crafting some of the most sumptuous images since Vincent Ward’s What Dream May Come. Deliberately hyper real, these scenes are awe inspiring and the only time you heart begins to soar.
Sadly the rest of the performances are moribund. Weisz and Wahlberg have zero chemistry and are unconvincing as parents of three children. Even Susan Sarandon fails to bring much life to film story that unforgivably lacks emotion. Music is often used to replace dialogue, leaving character development short of backbone. Rarely has a film felt both too long and to short
The fractured nature of the narrative does not help with the film jumping between worlds with little connection. What worked on the page has not translated well, which is surprising since screenwriters Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens previously managed to adapt Tolkien so well.
The Lovely Bones is not a terrible film, but given the talent on show and the strength of Alice Seabold’s source material, it is a huge opportunity wasted.