Movie Review: The Lovely Bones

by Eric Melin on January 20, 2010

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Making films about the “afterlife” can be tricky.

Director Peter Jackson (“King Kong,” “The Lord of the Rings”) is wrangling with this potentially divisive subject matter and the prospect of adapting a beloved book with his newest film “The Lovely Bones.” The end result is a movie that feels like several disjointed parts rather than a coherent whole.

the lovely bones 2009Based on the novel by Alice Sebold, much of the film is told from the point of view of Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a 14-year old girl who was raped and murdered by the most obvious serial killer ever and currently resides in “the In-between,” a shifting dreamscape of dramatic nature backgrounds that features a bunch of other serene, wandering children.

Besides this rainbow-colored CGI-filled depiction of purgatory, the palette of Jackson’s film is already overflowing with the loud fashions of the 1970s. If there were one compliment to pay the film, it would be to the art direction and director of photography Andrew Lesnie, whose visual style is transportive. The 70s “reality” in this movie is full of outward visual flourishes and stylistically similar to the In-between, making the entire movie feel like it’s really of its own time.

Then again, maybe that’s part of the problem. “The Lovely Bones” never hits hard. It is too dispassionate. It demands some very challenging and conflicting things of its audience:

the lovely bones 2009It asks you to grieve with Susie’s mother (Rachel Weisz) and father (Mark Wahlberg) and yet also be at peace with poor Susie as she walks the heavens.

It asks you to follow a pervy serial killer (Stanley Tucci) who carts handmade dollhouses around at the Mall and not wonder why no one ever suspected him of anything.

It asks you to care deeply about an unlikely teen romance between Susie and a popular older kid that never quite happened.

the lovely bones ronan wahlberg 2009It asks you to get involved in the domestic undoing of a family while providing, at best, a sketch of the collapse and some misguided comic relief (in the form of saucy grandmother played by Susan Sarandon).

Above all, it asks you to feel comforted.

This last part is the real failure of the film because it’s key to the entire mood of “The Lovely Bones.” Even by the end, it’s impossible to accept.

Jackson presents the police case and Susie’s father’s obsession with finding the killer as a small piece of a greater pie. Maybe it should have been the main focus. The movie could have explored grief the way “In the Bedroom” did—all shades and colors of it.

As it is, “The Lovely Bones” remains a mystery—not a mystery as in who committed the crime, but a mystery in its intended theme and why that theme didn’t unite the film at all.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 james January 20, 2010 at 10:06 pm

This movie is a puzzling misfire from Peter Jackson..it just doesn’t work. The movie also switches from very horrific scenes to these incrediblity cohearsed bubble gum visuals that completely took me out of the movie. I read somewhere that he made this film for his daughter and basically aimed so that daughters and mothers could view together and watch it. Ive been following Peter Jackson career since the famous trilogy and have come to expect some decent engaging cinema from him no matter what the topic, but this just left me cold. There was nothing redeemable about this picture. The subject matter is dark but the movie came off so creepy to me and yes the character of the peophile is creepy but I also found the victims portrayal and them all dancing in cornfields equally creepy.

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2 james January 20, 2010 at 10:06 pm

This movie is a puzzling misfire from Peter Jackson..it just doesn’t work. The movie also switches from very horrific scenes to these incrediblity cohearsed bubble gum visuals that completely took me out of the movie. I read somewhere that he made this film for his daughter and basically aimed so that daughters and mothers could view together and watch it. Ive been following Peter Jackson career since the famous trilogy and have come to expect some decent engaging cinema from him no matter what the topic, but this just left me cold. There was nothing redeemable about this picture. The subject matter is dark but the movie came off so creepy to me and yes the character of the peophile is creepy but I also found the victims portrayal and them all dancing in cornfields equally creepy.

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3 Aaron January 23, 2010 at 6:30 pm

I thought this movie was just terrible!
It left absolutely nothing open for interpretation and speller EVERYTHING out for the viewer.
Not to mention, it never spent long enough on each character’s struggle or story for long enough to relate.
Man. How about the scene where susan Sarandon comes in and there’s the whole goofy montage of her just being a silly, unable mother-in-law sent to fix the family. Felt like the movie was taking a turn into a Shelly Long-style comedy.
It was just terrible, man.

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4 Aaron January 23, 2010 at 6:30 pm

I thought this movie was just terrible!
It left absolutely nothing open for interpretation and speller EVERYTHING out for the viewer.
Not to mention, it never spent long enough on each character’s struggle or story for long enough to relate.
Man. How about the scene where susan Sarandon comes in and there’s the whole goofy montage of her just being a silly, unable mother-in-law sent to fix the family. Felt like the movie was taking a turn into a Shelly Long-style comedy.
It was just terrible, man.

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5 james January 24, 2010 at 7:06 pm

What about the scene where you see the killer the tub after she dies? I was like come on..and this asian girl comes out of nowhere and her character is so annoying. Also the british crush in the movie is equally annoying..i dont how they managed to find two most annoying people working in show business and put them together in a movie. And yes Susan Saradons bit was equally puzzling..the movie had no monumentum and it kept switching tones on you and expect you to follow along to this rather uninteresting story…total screw up by Jackson.

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6 james January 24, 2010 at 7:06 pm

What about the scene where you see the killer the tub after she dies? I was like come on..and this asian girl comes out of nowhere and her character is so annoying. Also the british crush in the movie is equally annoying..i dont how they managed to find two most annoying people working in show business and put them together in a movie. And yes Susan Saradons bit was equally puzzling..the movie had no monumentum and it kept switching tones on you and expect you to follow along to this rather uninteresting story…total screw up by Jackson.

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7 Jamie January 25, 2010 at 6:49 am

I read the book on a whim picking it up from the bookstore and it was such a great read that I had trouble putting it down and finished it quickly. With the trailers looking so good, I was desperate to watch it, but was so very disappointed with the product.

They changed around the story so much (probably for convenience considering the short length of the film) that basically all meaning of the film. There was really no explanation for mom’s way of grieving in the film. I mean if you read the book you can kind of get a glimpse of it in the opening scenes and loosely make the connection in the last scene based on that knowledge. But for regular movie goers who haven’t read the book? It just looks like it’s supposed to have meaning but rather oddly placed and just as much of a random montage of moments as the rest of the film. It kind of reminded me of the Harry Potter movies; the more recent ones are very confusing if you’ve never read the books on top of subpar acting.

Rarely are there films made from books that turn out well, but with Jackson’s direction of “Lord of the Rings” which I thought was easily understood and got its main meaning across despite the changes made and the time constraints I had hope. This one in particular was disappointing because it’s a concept that hasn’t been explored much by Hollywood yet and it could have turned out so much better than it did.

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8 Jamie January 25, 2010 at 6:49 am

I read the book on a whim picking it up from the bookstore and it was such a great read that I had trouble putting it down and finished it quickly. With the trailers looking so good, I was desperate to watch it, but was so very disappointed with the product.

They changed around the story so much (probably for convenience considering the short length of the film) that basically all meaning of the film. There was really no explanation for mom’s way of grieving in the film. I mean if you read the book you can kind of get a glimpse of it in the opening scenes and loosely make the connection in the last scene based on that knowledge. But for regular movie goers who haven’t read the book? It just looks like it’s supposed to have meaning but rather oddly placed and just as much of a random montage of moments as the rest of the film. It kind of reminded me of the Harry Potter movies; the more recent ones are very confusing if you’ve never read the books on top of subpar acting.

Rarely are there films made from books that turn out well, but with Jackson’s direction of “Lord of the Rings” which I thought was easily understood and got its main meaning across despite the changes made and the time constraints I had hope. This one in particular was disappointing because it’s a concept that hasn’t been explored much by Hollywood yet and it could have turned out so much better than it did.

Reply

9 edward Pye January 29, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Please, please Peter Jackson you are 2 horrible movies away from turning into M Night Shamalan…go back to directing school and learn how to make a human driven movie. This was atrocious and I’m from NZ.

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10 edward Pye January 29, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Please, please Peter Jackson you are 2 horrible movies away from turning into M Night Shamalan…go back to directing school and learn how to make a human driven movie. This was atrocious and I’m from NZ.

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11 Melissa February 19, 2010 at 5:49 pm

While the book was lovely and impossible to put down, I was rather disappointed with the movie as a WHOLE. While there were many good scenes, the movie failed to connect them together very well. There was too much of a contrast between the horrific scenes of the murderer, the greiving parents, the weirdo grandmother and then poor little lost Susie. I mean, I found myself crying at the scene where Susie’s father was smashing the bottles.. and two minutes later, there was Susie prancing around in some random field? Overall, the movie failed to tie all these differents moods together in a reasonable way.

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12 Melissa February 19, 2010 at 5:49 pm

While the book was lovely and impossible to put down, I was rather disappointed with the movie as a WHOLE. While there were many good scenes, the movie failed to connect them together very well. There was too much of a contrast between the horrific scenes of the murderer, the greiving parents, the weirdo grandmother and then poor little lost Susie. I mean, I found myself crying at the scene where Susie’s father was smashing the bottles.. and two minutes later, there was Susie prancing around in some random field? Overall, the movie failed to tie all these differents moods together in a reasonable way.

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13 Daniel April 29, 2010 at 10:02 am

Melissa you are soooooooo right. I just had to reply to your post since I felt the EXACT same thing about the scene where her dad was smashing bottles.

That scene was very emotional (I won’t admit any tears ;) ), then all of a sudden you see Susie dancing self-confidently, her picture in some cover of a magazine and other weird stuff that totally ruined the moment.

What about susies father running after Harvey in the cornfield, instead of beating harvey to death, he bumps into two teenagers having sex and then HE gets beaten. That was just embarrassing. Talk about failure..

Anyway I’m currently at the scene where Susies dad ends up in hospital. I just paused the movie to search on google for “the lovely bones dad failed” and that’s where I found this post.

I got so pissed that I actually took the time to search for that and actually write this hahaha… I so want to punch the director of this movie in the face!

/ Daniel from Sweden

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14 Daniel April 29, 2010 at 10:02 am

Melissa you are soooooooo right. I just had to reply to your post since I felt the EXACT same thing about the scene where her dad was smashing bottles.

That scene was very emotional (I won’t admit any tears ;) ), then all of a sudden you see Susie dancing self-confidently, her picture in some cover of a magazine and other weird stuff that totally ruined the moment.

What about susies father running after Harvey in the cornfield, instead of beating harvey to death, he bumps into two teenagers having sex and then HE gets beaten. That was just embarrassing. Talk about failure..

Anyway I’m currently at the scene where Susies dad ends up in hospital. I just paused the movie to search on google for “the lovely bones dad failed” and that’s where I found this post.

I got so pissed that I actually took the time to search for that and actually write this hahaha… I so want to punch the director of this movie in the face!

/ Daniel from Sweden

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15 Eric Melin May 4, 2010 at 9:42 am

Great comments here, everybody. I think we can all agree that this was a tough adaptation, and the fact that Jackson couldn’t put it all together speaks volumes. Sometimes books are just way better at getting diverse concepts across in the same story…thank you for mentioning the specific scenes that you felt didn’t work. I really appreciate the mature discussion!

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16 Eric Melin May 4, 2010 at 9:42 am

Great comments here, everybody. I think we can all agree that this was a tough adaptation, and the fact that Jackson couldn’t put it all together speaks volumes. Sometimes books are just way better at getting diverse concepts across in the same story…thank you for mentioning the specific scenes that you felt didn’t work. I really appreciate the mature discussion!

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17 melody June 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm

It is very wonderful story …after i saw the movie of this book i shocked cause so sadness but full of bitter reals that i`ve thought
existing more in every each part of world .
the man, who had over many lovely dreams of most kids and also over
most happy families …in my heart make more disscusting before i saw this movie i was believed that hung is not suitable justic for human
but now i really change my minds . sometimes even hang for somekinds
killers are not hardly as their sins they did ….

Reply

18 melody June 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm

It is very wonderful story …after i saw the movie of this book i shocked cause so sadness but full of bitter reals that i`ve thought
existing more in every each part of world .
the man, who had over many lovely dreams of most kids and also over
most happy families …in my heart make more disscusting before i saw this movie i was believed that hung is not suitable justic for human
but now i really change my minds . sometimes even hang for somekinds
killers are not hardly as their sins they did ….

Reply

19 rob August 12, 2010 at 10:28 am

I read the book to and from Philadelphia. It blotted out the commute totally, and stayed with me for days. The movie began well for me, but then it became so disjointed I was lost. For instance, with the finding of that book every police department in the country would be looking for him. For him to be older and still pulling that **@kkk is ridiculous. For the older daughter to run in the the book the very moment the mother was returning is absurd. That is not real life.

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20 parand August 12, 2010 at 1:07 pm

i`m iranian when i saw this movie i was so sadness .reals so heavey
can to get and i was wounder why police didn`t do anything can catuch ..any way after this movie for a long time i was empty by more
shocked i tryed to contorl myself but my tears dont let me …
how some sickness minds can close for even child to test even simple
text like the first kiss that the became for bones as biggest dream… i love the song of this movie also it has simple melody
of broken young hearts i dont think wanna to have seen another movie like it…

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