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The Lovely Bones

by on January 13, 2010
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Peter Jackson’s latest has long been thought to be in the hunt for Oscar gold. It still is, of course, but “The Lovely Bones” is equal parts pretender and contender.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little. “The Lovely Bones” is the story of young Susie Salmon (Saorise Ronan), a girl who, just as she is beginning that most exhilarating and traumatic time her her life (the teen years), she is murdered by her neighbor, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci).

I’m not spoiling anything by revealing this, because it’s but the premise of the film, which leads us down a most unusual path, as Susie spends much of the rest of the film floating around…somewhere (Purgatory? Heaven? Hell?), watching her family first search for her, then grieve her, all the while her killer staying in the shadows.

In between she meets Holly (Nikki SooHoo), who is about Susie’s age but seems to know her way around this watercolor paradise. She becomes Susie’s guide, showing her around and helping her accept her death.

Not so lucky are Susie’s parents (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz), who are left wondering what happened to their daughter.

Tucci is simply one of the finest working actors today, and to truly appreciate his performance, watch “The Devil Wears Prada,” or even something straightforward like “The Terminal” around the same time you see this film and contrast.

Tucci disappears into George Harvey to the degree that you think his combover and vague lisp are real. Tucci is a mortal lock for an Oscar nomination, and he’s a frontrunner to win.

Ronan also puts in a strong performance, though too often she’s simply asked to open her eyes wide and let the CG scenery reflect off of them. But she has presence and and expressive face she puts to good use, and she is wonderful in this role.

Also impressive in a smaller role is Michael Imperioli (Christopher from “The Sopranos”) as the detective who is working with the Salmon family. He delivers a nuanced, conflicted performance and serves the film well.

Weisz and Wahlberg each put in, at best, average performances. They are passable enough but are never given much other than the typical grieving parent roles.

Susan Sarandon also appears as the quirky alcoholic grandmother, and puts in one of those pretentiously bitchy know-it-all roles where she’s supposed to be the sassy older woman who imparts wisdom upon her grandchildren in quirky ways, but she mainly comes off as irritating and unlikable.

As an examination of what such a tragic trauma can do to a family, “Bones” is riveting. Unfortunately, the other half of the film, when we see Susie having fun in this wondrous new place, and even seeing her parents (even though they can’t see her), sucks the life out of the film.

These dueling narratives cancel each other out: for the audience, there’s no mystery surrounding what happened to Susie, and much of the afterlife sequences are ponderous and even boring, which is odd considering how incredible the scenery is.

The film, of course, is based on the best-selling novel, as as a viewer who hasn’t read the book, I feel like there are important aspects of the book missing from the adaptation of “The Lovely Bones,” which ultimately keeps this film from being a true contender.