The Lovely Bones

A debate I always engage in is whether to see an adapted movie before or after reading its source material. In some cases, both materials can easily thrive on their own, each being separate entities. In other cases, the adapted film requires knowledge of its source to truly appreciate what is going on. In the case of “The Lovely Bones,” I choose to see the film without yet reading the award-winning novel by Alice Sebold, and I feel that it falls into the latter category.

“The Lovely Bones” is a stylistic movie, bordering on magical realism, about the Salmon family. The story is told, in the past tense, by 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), who was murdered by her neighbor. What follows is a story of a family trying to cope. Susie’s father (Mark Wahlberg) and sister (Rose McIver) do so by attempting to find the murderer. Her mother (Rachel Weisz) does so by running away.

The film is not a mystery, as we know the murderer right off the bat, though it almost starts off as one. Instead, it plays out as more of a thriller, as the main focus is in watching the characters try and determine who the murderer is. Unfortunately, the thriller aspect does not play out, as the film becomes somewhat of a mish-mash of people being in touch with those in the other world, family emotions, and detective-like plot lines.

While all the actors are more than adequate (Saoirse Ronan is absolutely compelling as the murdered narrator, and Stanley Tucci is wonderful as her murderer), and the film is beautiful (Peter Jackson certainly has a way with integrating visual effects into his movies), it still feels lacking. The emotional roller coaster this family goes through, while apparent on the surface, is not much evident other than that. Characters often seem to exist for little purpose, something perhaps that was lost in translation from the novel.

There is also a lot of symbolism in “The Lovely Bones,” a lot of which may require a second viewing to understand fully. Yet, I get the feeling that a lot of this symbolism would be better understood had I read the novel first. In fact, through most of the film, I felt that I would have a better appreciation of the movie had I read the novel. While “The Lovely Bones,” is not a bad movie, it felt hollow to me – something that became tedious for the long running time of the film. The one thing it did was make me more compelled to read the novel, and that in itself is not a bad thing. But, as a film, “The Lovely Bones” falls short.


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