Friday, 8 January 2010

The Lovely Bones

James Cameron wasn’t the only director making an anticipated return to the screen this year. Peter Jackson’s last film the 2005 King Kong, although well regarded was seen as more of a remake than a true “Jacksonite” adaptation so The Lovely Bones was inadvertently seen as his first film since the blockbuster films about middle earth. Like The Lord of the Rings it was an adaptation of a novel and like The Lord of the Rings Jackson wrote it with partnering scribe Philipa Boyd. It centres on a young girl – Susie Salmon, who after being raped and murdered by a neighbour tries to find peace in the “in-between” between heaven and earth as her family simultaneously tries to cope with her death.
Obviously, The Lovely Bones is not your typical drama. I’ve not read the source, but with a premise like that we can see that it’s more than just your typical familial drama, one with a supernatural twinge. And in some ways I suppose that Jackson is the perfect one to helm a project that seems to be so ostensibly incongruous. I liked The Lovely Bones. I should just get that out of the way immediately. Try as I might I could not ignore the dismal reviews. Nathaniel, Rasco, Alex were all less than forthcoming with praise. Jose was more obliging and MGK was a fan as was Kristopher. I didn’t know where I would fall, I was still anticipating this despite the reviews and coming out of it I knew it was not perfect, but I was not disappointed.

Saiorse Ronan, of Atonement fame, plays Susie. With her piercing blue eyes and her clear voice I’m tempted to call Ronan’s performance my favourite child performance of the last decade, and maybe even the one before that. The strength of The Lovely Bones lies completely in her hands and she handles it beautifully. Her performance is so self conscious and it truly is surprising considering how much she’s tasked with. She has to spend the entire film looking fourteen but growing years more and it all needs to be realistic as possible. This wasn’t going to be an easy task, but Ronan is able to deliver an especially profound performance that counteracts any of the films possible inconsistencies.
The acting of the cast is generally good, although none is as good as Ronan. Much has been said of the reportedly underused Susan Sarandon, and as Susie’s Grandmother she is particularly scintillating in her scenes. In a category where insubstantial performances like Holly Hunter, Michelle Williams, Frances McDormand and Kathy Bates have been recognised I’m confused as to why Sarandon hasn’t gotten more notices for her performance. Looking as unsullied as she did a decade ago Sarandon is charming and resonant in her role. Rachel Weisz all but matches her, and although she is relegated to a mere prop as the film winds down her performance [particularly in the first forty minutes] is especially profound. I don’t find Wahlberg as underwhelming as some. Certainly, he’s not as talented as his co-stars, but there is only so much that could be done with such a role. Wahlberg is not ineffective, just unremarkable. Tucci wouldn’t make my shortlist of Supporting Actors but I can’t fault his performance, as unsubtle as it is. In a strange way it works.

In fact, I can’t fault The Lovely Bones for its lack of subtlety. A film that centres on a young girl trapped between heaven and earth needs to be as clear as possible. In fact, I see The Lovely Bones as a bit of a fairy tale. Susan Salmon [like the fish she says] is projecting her thoughts on to the screen. We only find the moustached Stanly Tucci as overbearingly histrionic because we know up front he’s the murderer. A subtle serial killer wouldn’t have caught the attention of Susie’s sister, and would negate the culmination of the film.  The Lovely Bones is the type of film I can see being lauded in the next generation even though being poorly received in this one. It is not a perfect film, but it’s as good as it could have gotten. I don’t think anyone taking this story could have done a more superior job than Jackson. I finished The Lovely Bones having the same feelings I did after seeing Cheri – what is that people are missing? I can’t say why The Lovely Bones hasn’t succeed, it’s not The Lord of the Rings, it’s perhaps not even the masterpiece some have called. But it is a good film. A very good film. Its lovers are few, but I’m one of them. Sorry, Alex.
So I didn't like Up In the Air, but liked this...interesting.


Anonymous said...

I thought it was OK, and I thought Stanley Tucci was fantastic.

Luke said...

I hesitate to agree with you (as I just can't fathom how much differently I felt about this movie than basically every critic in the country), but it really was so much better than the credit it's getting. And wow, Ronan says more with those eyes than most grown actors can hope for in a ten-minute monologue!

Jose said...

I'm with you on this one. Ronan's performance elevates the entire film from something flawed into a moving portrait of childhood.
I was moved beyond words thinking that, as you say, Susie will remain fourteen forever.
This notion of a life cut short like that is so tragic, yet Ronan brings an almost bubbly innocence to it that makes the whole thing even more moving. She should kick Mirren and Bullock out of the Best Actress race!

Runs Like A Gay said...

It's odd how this film has been rejected by most of mainstream critical opinion and yet is still picking up some fans, albeit measured ones like yourself.

It's been shifted back to mid-Feb release in the UK but I'll be definitely lining up when it does come out.

By the way I really like the way you admit to your preconceptions in the reviews, it makes the review itself feel much more honest.

joe burns said...

I hope I'm impressed by Ronan if I see it.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

sage tucci love is rare, and knowing how selective you are i'm surprise you liked him.

luke "Ronan says more with those eyes than most grown actors can hope for in a ten-minute monologue!" so true. it's startling how good she is. definitely not a one-trick pony. all that from little briony? i'm shocked.

jose i'm really hoping for an upset with her getting a nod. the film could not have worked without her, and they love that...but i don't know. this is ampas.

runs like... i really can't understand the critical flogging it's gotten. not perfect, but it's as if they just wanted to jump on a train and beat it into oblivion - like with nine, which i'm yet to see...but still...

joe i hope so too.

everyone not to sound snobby, but the fact that the hangover is rated almost double this on rotten tomatoes is really making me worried about the worthiness of critics.

Jude said...

Boy do I want to see this! But I can't believe that it'll be better than Up in the Air! Ah well, I guess that film isn't for everyone.

Univarn said...

I still want to see this as well. Just looks so good. Also, I know you saw Mad Hatter's Kreativ Bloggers award yesterday (and since he nominated me it's my job to pass it along) and I nominated your blog, so be sure to check it out and pass it along rightly so!

Alex in Movieland said...

what is it that people are missing?! :))

the screenplay is a MESS. not just to someone who has read the book... there is not balance in the tone of the film. Everytime Jackson was in trouble, he pulled another cheesy visual nonsense.

how about the "romance"? did you buy it?

there is no depth to any character. all of them look like sketches. And the screenplay solutions... oh look the girl who sees the dead (totally unexplained in the movie) lives right next to the big whole. Perfect opportunity to see Stanley tucci throw the body :))

it's sometimes a hard horror drama, and end up like a Hannah Montana.

boy, I hate it more everyday. Whoever edited it should be ashamed.

Of course: all of this, just my opinion.

Douglas Racso said...

i think one my main reasons for hating the film was that it felt rushed. everything. i could not digest the emotion that much because i was fed with it every 3 minutes or so. it felt restless. i got so tired. there is such a thing as fast pacing but this one is fast forward pacing. i was waiting for things to settle down.

but then again. to each his own ehhehe