Falling between worlds – and stools
THERE’S a famous scene towards the end of ‘Jerry Maguire’ where the eponymous character (played by Tom Cruise) makes a grand speech in an attempt to win back his wife. He has just told Dorothy (Renée Zellweger) that she completes him, when she interrupts. “Shut up,” she says. “Just shut up. You had me at hello.” And they all live happily ever after.
If Jerry had Dorothy at ‘hello’, Peter Jackson’s new film ‘The Lovely Bones’ lost me long before it hit our cinema screens. The trailer, which has been running for what seems like decades, opens with an introduction from Susie Salmon (our own Saoirse Ronan) which explains that she was 14 years old when she was murdered.
Having hinted at an interesting whodunnit, however, ‘The Lovely Bones’ quickly turns its attention to imagining limbo for the non-religious generation. “Susie’s in the in-between,” a youthful voice that turns out to be her kid brother muses. When I heard those words, I thought: ‘This is not going to be my kind of thing’. And I wasn’t wrong.
Summed up as ‘a perfect world’ that ‘wasn’t perfect’, the place between heaven and earth from which Susie views events after her death is one of many problematic aspects of the movie.
‘The Lovely Bones’ – originally rated 15A by the Irish Film Classification Office, but re-graded 12A on appeal – is based on a 2002 novel by Alice Sebold. ‘Invictus’ prompted this viewer to seek out the source material, but this particular adaptation has left fans of the book unhappy – and won’t win it too many new readers.
Saoirse Ronan is by far the best thing about the flick. Her character is an obsessive photographer, fancies a fellow high school pupil who looks like a young Diego Maradona, and describes being forced to wear a knitted hat as ‘an exercise in humiliation’. Then she falls victim – ‘off-stage’, so to speak – to a serial killer.
The murderer – played by the generally excellent Stanley Tucci – is straight from central casting. He is so obviously sinister it’s a wonder the obsessive sleuthing of Susie’s father Jack (Mark Wahlberg) doesn’t immediately lead him to the man across the road.
The investigating policeman (Michael Imperioli) insists on ‘evidence’ and ‘proof’, not standards that were required during the actor’s days playing Tony’s nephew Christopher in ‘The Sopranos’,
The place where Susie spends the early part of her afterlife looks spectacular – as one would expect from the man behind ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. Parts of the life she has left behind are echoed in giant size, and there’s a memorable scene involving ships crashing on rocks.
But regardless of the beautiful surroundings, why someone should be relatively upbeat after being murdered aged 14 is never even addressed – let alone explained. Requests that a dead person ‘let go of earth’ while her killer remains at large seem bemusing. It’s like a nonsensical episode of ‘The Ghost Whisperer’.
When the action swings back to the disintegrating family unit, the tone is all wrong. Susie’s mum (Rachel Weisz) is struggling to cope, so the kids are minded by their alcoholic grandmother (Susan Sarandon). The unfunny black ‘humour’ this evokes is another misstep.
There’s a dramatic scene when the dead girl’s sister breaks into the murderer’s house, and some suspense via a race through a cornfield. But with its hints of colliding worlds and guardian angels, the whole enterprise seems misguided. Any cinema-goer who still cares is focused on what’s going to happen to the repulsive villain, but too often, the picture has its head in the clouds.
Rating 2 out of 5