Sunday, January 17, 2010

Underneath Your Skin-The Lovely Bones is fractured, but moving


One thing must be said immediately: Overall, there are more things that I liked than disliked in this movie. Around the country, possibly around the world, critics have dropped this film like a hot potato from their Oscar contenders lists; however I neither think it's as bad as most critics seem to believe nor would I say that it surpassed my expectations.
I think there were a couple of things that were always going to hinder it. First on that list would be the fact that it's directed by Peter Jackson, not because he's not fantastic, but because he brings an automatic expectation of excellence. Anything slightly less will not do. He's made a name for himself with epics in more recent years, but this film is more intimate, like early Jackson, think
Heavenly Creatures (a feeling I especially couldn't shake during a scene involving a perpatrator's cleaning up of his crime). If the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong were yet to be made, this movie would be judged very differently. This feels like the kind of movie that Jackson could have made 12 years ago and people might have gone crazy for. Instead, what happened was the expectations reached epic proportions, and, well, The Lovely Bones isn't an epic kind of movie. To his credit, I'm not certain that any issue I have with the movie is a reflection on Jackson, or if it's an inherent problem in the story, but more on that later.
The second on that hindrance list would be that it's based on a book that most people who have read, adore. What this always indicates is that an adaptation will never meet everyone's expectations. There is always a danger in adapting a book that has sat atop several bestseller lists, has been read by everyone from English majors to Grandma's Book Club. When everyone reads it, everyone has an opinion, a face for the characters, an idea of what a character would sound like, and all of those differ from person to person. Right now, in this country alone, there are probably, roughly, 2.5 million different Susie Salmons in peoples minds. So that means there are, again, roughly, 2.5 million people who will go see this movie and then feel the need to say, "That's not how I pictured it at all."
I was not affected by that opinion, seeing as I haven't read the book yet. But what I will say, is that seeing this adaptation made me at least want to pick up the book and see what's missing. There's always a greater story in the page than can be shown on the screen and, despite what looks to be a noble attempt at a faithful adaptation, there are loose ends to be tied up, questions to be answered, details I'd like filled in. There are certain details that need little explanation. Here's what I know, that's as spoiler-free as I can make it, of the film.
Susie Salmon is your average 14-year old. She's from a close-knit suburban family,she's got a crush on a senior boy, and she likes to go to the mall. By all accounts, Susie is leading the most normal of lives, and then one day, all of this changes. What follows is a dissection. A dissection of life, of love and of the moments that change us. It's a story with grisly, frightening undertones, and yet, it's also about the people and the feelings that hold us to a place. It's about what happens to us when the worst has come to pass and what happens to those left behind.
If you think it sounds deep that's because it is; and yet, there's something about the tone of the movie that doesn't fit it. It's like Jackson was afraid to go too dark, lightening the mood with odd montages that seemingly have little to do with moving the plot forward. It's a film divided, both literally and figuratively. A film divided by the emotions that it wants to both tackle and convey and a film divided among two worlds.
Where the film shines is the world of the here and now. It's populated with interesting characters and an underlying tension that rarely erupts, but that could have been nicely built up if it wasn't busy being interrupted by the other world of the film, known as "the in-between". There are instances of erratic cross-cutting and dramatic shifts in the pacing of the film that require the audience to shift emotional gears too quickly. I would have preferred to not feel like I, myself, was in the in-between.
But in a movie that is character-driven, the cast is of supreme importance, and no one here disappoints. Saorise Ronan (you'll recognize her from Atonement), Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, and Susan Sarandon (although criminally underused and employed in curious comic relief form) are the epitome of suburban naivete, while Stanley Tucci, at his uber creepiest, is the wake up call we all fear to receive.
Overall there is enough tension to engage but I wished for more action and less voice over, but perhaps that's where the problem lies. When a book is as revered as The Lovely Bones is amongst its fans, the pressure to remain faithful to the letter is heightened. In trying to please the literary crowd, I'm afraid Jackson might have sacrificed some theatrical enjoyment. While the film itself looks gorgeous, and is an emotional journey, its tone and pacing problems might take its toll on the audience. I would recommend seeing it at least once, and then you can make your own decision.

My Decision: 3 out of 5

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