”What am I now?” asks the extraordinary Saoirse Ronan, her eyes welling. “The dead girl? The lost girl? The missing girl? I’m nothing.” Whatever the flaws of this less-than-wondrous version of The Lovely Bones (and there are several), they’re not of this poised actor, as intuitive a teen talent as Haley Joel Osment.
The sky around her just swirls a little too vigorously; the story, brought to screen in a showy CGI manner, takes place in a strange first-person purgatory out of which teenage Suzie Salmon, murdered by a serial killer, narrates her story.
Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel was heartrending—a potent mixture of grief, resignation and the resiliency of memory. Such spells can sometimes make it to the screen intact. (Think of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides.) The filmmaker we get, though, is Peter Jackson, and while hobbits and giant apes are temporarily exorcised from his system, he hasn’t quite recaptured the psychological intimacy of 1994’s Heavenly Creatures. This new movie’s ’70s-era clothes and cars are detractingly vivid; scenes often feel like the hyperreal dream sequences of Brian De Palma’s Carrie.
The Lovely Bones is a supernatural tale too, and Jackson, scripting with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, has amped up the suspense elements at the expense of delicate mood: An unrecognizable Stanley Tucci pursues Suzie’s younger sister in a Hitchcockian housebound chase that thrills to no purpose. There won’t be any justice here, and you can’t help but think a heroically committed Mark Wahlberg (less ruined than the book’s dad) or a sassy Susan Sarandon (as the boozy grandma) are somehow beside the point.
It’s a movie that tips toward overkill—even Ronan’s voice is amplified into a weird whisper. More quiet would have helped. Joshua Rothkopf