Death, the Maiden and Kitsch

12/09/2009 4:00 AM |

The Lovely Bones

Directed by Peter Jackson

The most remarkable aspect of Alice Sebold’s surprise bestseller The Lovely Bones isn’t its metaphysical conceit (in which murdered fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon observes her bereaved family and serial-killer neighbor from beyond the unmarked grave) but its improbably life-affirming sentimentality. Though ultimately cloying, Sebold’s suburban Gothic allegory intermittently transcends middlebrow meh by virtue of its descriptive precision and its unflinchingly candid portraits of long-percolating emotional traumas.

Neither of these saving graces have survived Peter Jackson’s nebulously frenetic and euphemistically kid-friendly adaptation. Shuttling between several potential storylines (police procedural, Hitchcockian thriller, otherworldly fantasy) like so many unpromising leads, the mechanically structured screenplay leans heavily on relentlessly signposted plot points in the absence of any organic narrative propulsion.

Eliding enough adult material to secure a PG-13 rating might not have been a mortal cut, but the embarrassingly underwritten characterizations are fatal. Stanley Tucci’s performance as the serial killer (a comb-over grotesque with a pervy mustache and predilection for hard candies) manages to be less dimensional than Susan Sarandon’s comic relief role as Susie’s (Saoirse Ronan) wacky alcoholic grandmother. Come to think of it, glammy Grandma Lynn is probably the most complex character in the whole film, which should tell you everything you need to know about the dramaturgy.

Visually, Bones pastiches iconic Americana with outrageously kitschy visions of Susie’s tailor-made heaven, an aesthetic which suggests Norman Rockwell by way of Lisa Frank. And if that sounds like the most garishly ugly thing you can imagine: yes, yes it is.

Opens December 11

2 Comment