Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones is a colossally misguided failure. Based on the well-received 2002 novel by Alice Sebold, Jackson — along with his Lord of the Rings cohorts, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh — has penned a meandering screenplay, made merely all the worse by uniformly awful performances, poor editing, and generally bad filmmaking.
Mark Wahlberg (who stepped in to replace Ryan Gosling prior to filming) is in Happening mode, which means he’s doing that insincere, dopey nice-guy routine again that he’s particularly bad at; Rachel Weisz disappears for half the movie, Susan Sarandon acts like she fell out of a Farrelly Brothers comedy, then also disappears for half the movie; and relative newcomer Saoirse Ronan is a bit too precocious for her own good. And Stanley Tucci, in the role of a twisted serial killer, alternates between horrific and morbidly humorous, as Jackson attempts to have us laugh at this guy’s predicaments and then root for his demise. The whole movie doesn’t have a clue what it wants to be, and because the thread of the story — the brutal rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl — is so deplorable, the film’s lack of commitment to any singular theme or idea renders the picture offensive rather than just boring (which it certainly is as well).
Jackson doesn’t like dialogue, as is clear from his recent roundtable discussion with fellow directors. That’s fine. But it’s hard not to assume his inflated ego is to blame for the movie’s visual excesses — maybe the sequences in heaven were poignant in the novel, but here they seem distracting and unnecessary, pulling us out of the main narrative (the human story, no less), which needed all the help it could get to begin with. Furthermore, for a director with such a renowned visual sense as Jackson, the special effects sequences are simply bad — no more or less fantastical than a standard television commercial advertising anti-depression pills. Let’s hope TinTin fares better.
For major studios, January is considered “dumping grounds” — a time to toss aside the aborted Oscar contenders or latest Eddie Murphy comedy. Jackson’s movie was originally set for release at the end of 2009, in time for the awards season, but was delayed a wider expansion after disastrous test screenings and subsequently scathing reviews. One of the film’s final shots is of a character discarding an unwanted object into a big hole in the ground, burying it from existence — it’s hard not to see the irony.