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Review: The Lovely Bones (2009)

The Lovely Bones (2009)

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Premise: An adaptation of Alice Seybold’s novel. A teenage girl is murdered and from the afterlife she watches her family attempt to solve the crime.

What Works: The Lovely Bones has some notable performances by Saoirse Ronan as the teenage victim, Mark Wahlberg as her father, and Stanley Tucci as the killer. The visual effects of the film are equally impressive.

What Doesn’t: Despite strong performances and some visual flair, The Lovely Bones is an incoherent mess of a film. The story has several alternating themes such as achieving justice for the departed, coping with loss, and redefining life after a tragedy but the film never settles on any one theme, hopping from one to the other. The fantasy sequences, as beautiful as they often are, do not have any point and are full of visuals that do not mean anything. The settings and the symbols of the afterlife do not carry weight or significance to the story and so the murdered teenager spends her time wandering around a vestibule in the middle of a cornfield instead of doing something that might advance the story. Her family’s story is equally ineffective, as her father begins to investigate the murder but none of his efforts result in anything. The Lovely Bones is also problematic in its unwillingness to face the ugliness and pain of the violence of the teenager’s death. All films dealing with ghosts or vengeful spirits face an inherent contradiction; if there is indeed a life after death, as this film supposes, then it is problematic for the ghost to proclaim that they were “killed” because to the audience they are very much alive. The Lovely Bones exacerbates this problem because the victim is never shown suffering, her afterlife plays like an idealistic fantasyland, and the story does not give the living characters any goal; even if they solve the crime or come to peace with it, that does not translate into any kind of benefit for the spirit of their murdered daughter.

Bottom Line: The Lovely Bones is a stunning example of good actors, a good filmmaker, and high production values all being derailed by a bad script. There is just too much fundamentally wrong with this film to save it.

Episode: #274 (January 24, 2010)