The Lovely Bones surprised me by being a pretty decent movie. I had heard rumors that it did no justice to the book and that the whacked-out heaven scenes thought up by director Peter Jackson (who I do agree was improvising a bit too far but still offered us something pretty inventive to look at) was something more akin to Yellow Submarine than an extension of Alice Sebold’s brilliant novel.
But let’s back up for a minute. Was the book brilliant to the end? I will say that the momentum that carried the story through the first year following the heartbreaking rape and murder of 14-year-old Susie Salmon created one of the best segments of a book I’ve ever read. The writing, which seemed fluid and effortless, wove together complex themes of coping with the loss of a loved one: shock, unexpected reactions, harsh honesty and, at times, selfish acts, which is true to life. Susie seemed to float around her loved ones in a way that made the reader feel as if they were also ethereal and drifting in and out of the organic scenes created by this amazing writer. But once everyone around Susie’s lingering presence (which was caught in limbo) started aging and moving on, the book became stagnant, directionless, unfocused, and I had a hard time following through with it, especially with the anticlimactic way the fate of Susie’s murderer was handled in a mere paragraph, brushed aside like he wasn’t important enough for the gruesome ending everyone hoped for him. I didn’t think the second half of the book was nearly as good as the first. It’s almost as if Sebold got tired and didn’t feel like putting the same amount of effort into the second half of the book as the first. So instead she just kinda abruptly ended everything not-so-well and passed out from exhaustion like after a college all-nighter.
But the movie did a very decent job of capturing this truly dense and confusing tale—likewise imperfect yet lovely—of what possibly happens when we die, how there are no real answers that are fulfilling or neatly-tied, and how it’s probably nearly impossible to let go on both sides.
Sure, the movie fell short of the book in its level of detail, which is always true of a movie, but Jackson was pretty faithful to the book. He wasn’t guilty of changing major details or even plot points as those in Hollywood seem to feel privileged to do for no apparent reason (see The Time Traveler’s Wife) though he was certainly guilty of leaving out many interesting things that viewers would’ve liked to see. Though this lack is be expected with a novel this rich being forced into a two-hour film, I would’ve preferred it if Jackson spent more time on details and character development than fancy heaven scenes.
All the characters surrounding Susie (who was perfectly played by Atonement actress Saoirse Ronan) were flat instead of whole (except for Susan Sarandon, who did an amazing portrayal of the saucy alcoholic grandmother, and Stanley Tucci, who brought oh-so-many layers of creepy to the murderous neighbor) but Mark Wahlberg, who has proven himself an amazing actor in Fear and The Departed, was wasted in this film; he didn’t seem to get much screen time or even many lines! But I will say—considering that adaptations tend to suck entirely—not bad, Peter Jackson. This was not an easy book to capture, and it didn’t seem to completely elude you.
But let’s hope for an extended version.