FILM REVIEW: The Lovely Bones

Don’t stock up on the Kleenex

12A • 135 mins • 29 January
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon

“My name is Salmon. Like the fish. First name Susie.” For some, the simple act of reading those words will spark a tidal wave of tears. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was published in 2002 and became a bestseller, its tale of a young girl raped, murdered and watching her family cope with her loss from Heaven becoming the “it” book for anyone with a surplus of hankies.

So why is it that Peter Jackson’s adaptation does leave a dry eye in the house? For a book so awash with sorrow, the film version is strangely emotionless. It tries, dear lord, it tries; Rachel Weisz as Susie’s mum must have gone through a bucket of eyeliner. But somehow the depth of the novel has become nothing more than an exercise in producing a polished, beautiful-looking fantasy.

Not that it’s a bad film. Saoirse Ronan is wonderful as Susie, her wide, crazy-blue eyes a dead ringer for Jackson’s other grief-stricken hero, Frodo Baggins. The film looks spectacular, from the autumnal street in which Susie’s family live to the golden fields of almost-Heaven. Jackson knows how to do tension, too, with both Susie’s chilling final moments (her rape isn’t even hinted at; there’s nothing too graphic in this 12A release) and her sister’s later investigations into her death both drawing forth a fearful cold sweat. Even the sound design is perfect; never have the pages of a book turning been given so much depth.

But there’s still something missing: for such a deeply personal story it all feels oddly impersonal. There’s been so much attention paid to the overall look and feel of the film that Susie has somehow ended up lost within it, and her adventures in the hinterland between Earth and Heaven are an exercise in CG-gimmickry. You’re too busy staring at all the pretty to wonder what she’s doing there. It doesn’t help that both Weisz and Mark Wahlberg are disappointingly lightweight as her parents, and as Susie’s murderer, Stanley Tucci merely comes across as a creepy caricature of Dustin Hoffman.

The Lovely Bones is an interesting movie with enough visual majesty to make watching it a rewarding experience, but it’s certainly not a heartbreaking one… and for that we must weep. Jayne Nelson