With this screen adaptation of Alice Sebold’s chilling and resolving novel, Peter (The Lord of the Rings) Jackson is attempting a challenging narrative/cinematic juggling act, and nearly pulls it off. But then the balls start slipping through his fingers and we’re left with the same impression of watching a magic show in which the magician succumbs to the curse of the almost succeeded end result.
In The Lovely Bones, the tale is of suburbia, interrupted. Adding to the charm is the period piece nostalgia of early-’70s brand idealized suburban life, with hairstyles, fashion, and culture dialed effectively back to the era of The Partridge Family. “We weren’t these unlucky people, to whom bad things happen,” says our 13-year-old protagonist (Saoirse Ronan), reporting in posthumous voiceover from the Great Beyond. Alas, bad things do happen to the soon-to-be murdered girl. As the killer next door, Stanley Tucci, with his greasy comb-over and unctuous Dustin Hoffman-esque cadences, may be the second creepily fine film villain of the season, along with Inglourious Basterds’ Christoph Waltz.
Jackson tries admirably to create an interactive storyteller’s pact between themes of domestic bliss and complacency, the lurking evil just down the block, and the phantasmagorical “in between” place just south of heaven. But the sometimes engaging parts don’t add up to a compelling whole. While he delves into thriller tactics with glee and hints at the humanity of the story, Jackson may be best suited to the realm of lavishly, high-budget fantastical milieus. It seems as though he just can’t wait to get to the heaven scenes, which he presents as a big-budget riff on the fairy-dusted world of Lucky Charms commercials. What a fine time and place, he figures, for a New Age-y, MTV-style music video, while we mortals scratch our heads in darkened theaters.
Like Avatar, another film seduced into an FX-filled domain, The Lovely Bones impresses on some purely sensory levels, but outstays its welcome in Neverland. It makes you yearn for some kitchen-sink realism to connect back to the land of the living, as we know it.