In The Lovely Bones, a young girl struggles to reach out to her grieving, self-destructive father as he tries to solve her death. Segmented bits of semi-connected subplots sever the audience’s connection to the story.
Jack Salmon’s (Mark Wahlberg) world comes crumbling down around him when his daughter Susie (Saoirse Ronan) disappears on her way home from school. Even as time passes, he cannot let her go and obsesses about where she is, if she is alive and who killed her if she was murdered. Susie Salmon chooses not to cross into heaven and to stay in her own world between heaven and the world of the living. She looks down on her father, occasionally able to make contact. They both are haunted by the life of her killer.
In an attempt to create a surreal experience, writer-director Peter Jackson and writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens make The Lovely Bones uncomfortable and unbelievable. Separately, the story styles may have worked: one a magical, overly-exaggerated, yet tragic world of grief and beauty; the other story a cutting examination of the power of grief to tear a family apart and strength of love to glue it back together. Together they are nothing less than a cinematic see-saw. When one side goes up, the other plunges down and the audience is left wondering what and where they should be paying their attention. The unpleasant confusion and the nauseating back and forth murder any of the pleasantries in the film.
The absolute worst part of The Lovely Bones is the non-heaven in which Susie lives. The landscape is always in transition and the meaning of the place seems to change. Susie speaks in riddles when the subject of the world creep forth. There is a cast of useless characters who visit Susie in her segregation. Her personal resting point was less ethereal and more commercial break.
The real shame of the really poor decision making by the director and writers is that it takes away from some surprisingly resonating acting. Mark Wahlberg’s grief requires no weapon to remove your heart from your chest. Rachael Weisz, who plays Susie’s mother, Abigail, has a breakdown that could anger the most stoic in the seats. I was most fond of Rose McIver, who plays Lindsey, Susie’s little sister. Her performance is subtle, but genuine. She reminds me a great deal of my own little sister, in personality, and courage.
Personal sentiment aside, The Lovely Bones is an exercise in toothpaste and orange juice. Both may be refreshing alone, but together, they make drinking bleach a real option – no matter how nice the packaging.