Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) narrates the story of … what exactly? She tells us almost from the start that she died at 14 years old. And it’s not simply that she died; she was murdered by a neighbor (Stanley Tucci), an evil serial molester, all the more sinister in skewed feverish angles.
Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and his writing and producing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens were obviously drawn to the fantastic elements in Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel, and on some level this is part of what works best in the film. Susie is in-between — her version of limbo is a dreamscape informed by the sense and sensibilities of a 14-year-old girl in the early 1970s.
It would be too on-the-nose to focus on the fact that limbo for Susie has the impressionistically surreal look and feel of What Dreams May Come because there is a simplicity and delicacy that’s never lost. It doesn’t evolve into a mature, adult framework because Susie herself will never do so.
Yet during much of The Lovely Bones, I found myself wishing that Jackson had passed this project on to Sofia Coppola, whose take on The Virgin Suicides was more in tune with the magic of female adolescence (and early teenage male longing) in the 1970s. Jackson appreciates and expertly renders the fantasy and otherworldly qualities of dark hearts, but he doesn’t show how the bones mend or the strength that exists in those reconstituted parts. Now that would have been lovely indeed. Grade: B-