The Lovely Bones

There’s no point in pretending otherwise, The Lovely Bones has been in limited release since late last year. This is because Paramount thought it would be factor in the 2009 Academy Awards picture. Unfortunately the reviews have been mixed and almost nobody is giving it any chance of multiple major nominations. Stanley Tucci as the murderer, George Harvey will probably get a well deserved nomination as best supporting actor and there may be other nods for special effects and other technical awards. But Best Picture and Best Actor and Actress seem out of reach. The film’s wide release was postponed until now, at a time of year when studios usually dump their disappointments.

Of course, it’s sometimes good to go into these things with diminished expectations.

It’s true that Peter Jackson’s films sometimes have a slickness to them that detracts from the other elements. It’s like he doesn’t know when he’s done and has to keep fiddling. The effects here are beautiful and well conceived, but you see far too much of them. I would rather he had replaced some of those lingering landscape shots of heaven with a scene or two explaining why the mother goes away, or why the grandmother drinks.

This film is excruciatingly over-edited. Every scene is at least a beat too long. At the climax, I found myself getting impatient at all the reaction shots. It could easily be a half hour shorter.

And yet there is a human story at the heart of all this craft. Good movies are often made during casting, and I think that’s the case here. Saoirse Ryan is effective as Susie, the murdered girl who narrates the story from the in-between, a sort of staging area for those about to enter Heaven. The role doesn’t include many fireworks but it doesn’t need any. Mark Wahlberg, as Jack, her grieving dad, handles all the fireworks in acceptable fashion. Rachel Weisz isn’t given much to do as Abigail, Susie’s mother. Susan Sarandon provides the only levity in the movie as Susie’s hard-drinking grandmother.  And Rose McIver shines as Lindsey, Susie’s younger sister, who proves to be the strongest and smartest member of the family.

Watching this family cope with the stress of such a tragic occurrence is the reason for seeing this film. That and Stanley Tucci who delivers the one truly great performance in The Lovely Bones. He plays George Harvey as a seemingly harmless nerd, a loner who goes about his business without bothering anyone. He is, however, very smart and able to turn on the charm when it suits him. Tucci is one of our best actors.

All that adds up to a film that is worth seeing and no more. The most frustrating thing is the waste. We know that Peter Jackson can do better than “worth seeing.” The question is will he?

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