Santa Cruz Good Times

Friday
Oct 24th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Bleached Remains

film_bonesStory pales under opulent fx in 'The Lovely Bones'

A story about a murdered child is a tough sell. Alice Sebold evidently pulled it off in her bestselling novel "The Lovely Bones." Narrated from the afterlife by a 14-year-old girl brutally murdered by the neighborhood serial killer, it's a story of death-defying love, grief, healing and redemption.

But for those of us who haven't read the novel, only vague traces of what must have made it so meaningful survive in Peter Jackson's unwieldy adaptation of The Lovely Bones. Jackson and co-scriptwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens replicate the action of the plot—which is occasionally grim and often confusing—but never imbue it with the poetic or transformative power that would make it all amount to something. Instead, Jackson spends his creative energy attempting to depict the unknowable—the afterlife ("the in-between time") from which the young heroine tells her tale. Jackson envisions it as an opulent CGI playground of mind-blowing images, but every time we go there, we're wrenched out of the intimate human drama that should have given the film its soul.

Too bad Jackson didn't trust his actors to carry the story on their own. Poised young Saoirse Ronan (she was the troubled tween in Atonement) stars as Susie Salmon. Eldest of three kids in a tight suburban Pennsylvania family ca. 1973, Susie is fond of her siblings, adores her pretty mom (Rachel Weisz), and has an especially loving relationship with her dad, Jack (very nicely played by Mark Wahlberg). Vibrant and cheerful, Susie is on the brink of everything—womanhood, first love with a handsome classmate (Reece Ritchie), self-discovery via a new Instamatic camera, life. Until the evening she stays late after school, strays into a nearby cornfield with neighbor Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci, in owlish glasses and fusty moustache), and never makes it home.

It's possible to make a gripping drama about dead people if it's done with enough style: the glamorous cynicism of Sunset Boulevard, say, or the audacious trickery of The Sixth Sense. But Jackson's film suffers a failure of tone: Susie mentions early on that she's been murdered, but the movie unfolds in chronological time. She's still very much alive in the first 30 or 40 minutes, which the squirming audience watches with increasing dread, knowing we're going to have to witness her murder. Whatever pathos Susie wrings from this memory in the pages of Sebold's novel, it borders on prurience here, the viewer forced to watch in helpless outrage as a doomed child is lured to her grisly end.

To his credit, Jackson's handling of this scene is less graphic than we fear, but once Susie enters her limbo between Heaven and Earth, he lets the rest of the story go to hell. Grief divides the Salmons; Jack pesters the cops with tenuous "leads" toward finding the killer, while Mom deserts the family to (get this) become a migrant fruit picker in Santa Rosa, shown as a picturesque lifestyle that gives her plenty of time to write postcards and, you know, think. Family caretaking falls to hard-drinking, chain-smoking Grandma (Susan Sarandon), whose presence occasions an idiotic comic montage on bad housekeeping, and adds nothing important to the story.

Meanwhile, Susie is off larking about in the afterlife, playing dress-up with another dead girl, sailing through the cosmos. It's touching that her dad still senses her presence, but it's unclear why he's suddenly so convinced Mr. Harvey is the guy, so he follows him in the dead of night with a baseball bat. (It has something to do with Susie's hatred, which also comes out of nowhere; until that moment, she's been serene and reflective.) (For that matter, wouldn't someone skulking off to the cornfield late at night to spy on teens making out take a more circuitous route than down the main street with a flashlight?)

Time and again, Jackson overwhelms what ought to be these small moments of clarity with gigantic effects, or impossible logistics. (It takes two men to laboriously roll a heavy safe across a field that one of them apparently hauled out of a basement and loaded into his SUV all by himself.) Like Susie herself, only a ghostly afterimage of Sebold's intent remains.

THE LOVELY BONES ★★

With Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz and Stanley Tucci. Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa  Boyens, and Peter Jackson. From the novel by Alice Sebold. Directed by Peter Jackson. A Paramount release. Rated R. 135 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Santa Cruz Restaurant Week

A huge part of Santa Cruz Restaurant Week has always been about offering a great dining experience for an affordable price. For some locals, the $25 flat-rate cost has provided the opportunity (or the excuse!) to try new spots, and indulge in Santa Cruz fine dining in a way they might have thought too pricey before.

 

Scorpio Sun, New Moon Eclipse, Mercury Direct

The Sun enters Scorpio’s mysteries Thursday under a new moon and partial solar eclipse (something essential has come to an end, its purpose completed). In Scorpio we harbor secrets, are devoted to something deep, dark and hidden. Sometimes it’s ourselves. We can bring great suspect to our assessment of others. Scorpio is the scorpion, the serpent and the eagle—three levels of development. As the serpent we take shelter in our beliefs. Sometimes we bite (or sting). The eagle vanquishes old beliefs through its sharp intellect, soaring high in the air, seeking to understand through perspective. Understanding releases us from the bondage of fear. The eagle is like the mother soothing feelings of mistrust, offering protection. Knowledge does this, too.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Light Humor

College comedy questions a post-racial America in ‘Dear White People’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Back Porch

Austin Kaye on backyard dinners and why it’s his favorite time of year to be a chef

 

What’s the most outrageous situation you ever saw at a restaurant?

Damani Thomas, Santa Cruz, Chef/Owner

 

Wine Lust

The Spanish Godello grape, plus arancinis, tender butter lettuce and pork schnitzel at Soif

 

What artist or artists participating in the encore weekend of Open Studios should not be missed?

Santa Cruz | Teacher