Friday, June 08, 2012

DVD Review/Rant: "The Lovely Bones" (2009)

Them bones, them bones, them dry bones.

Bones?  The very word makes me hear in my imagination McCoy snapping, "I'm a doctor, not a moviemaker!"  At least McCoy knows his own limitations.  Some people certainly do not, which would explain why Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson's attempt to adapt Alice Sebold's bestselling 2002 novel is a complete train wreck that will henceforth be held up as a prime example of how not to adapt books for film.  There's absolutely nothing that the talented cast can do to save this thing no matter what they do, not even Stanley Tucci.  They're hemmed in on all sides by the director and his pet writers.  The real winner here is Ryan Gosling ... because he was actually supposed to be in this flick until Jackson fired him at the last minute and replaced him with the unfortunate Mark Wahlberg.  Gosling's probably breathing a sign of relief and thanking his lucky stars in retrospect that he dodged this crapulous bullet and subsequently made movies that were actually, you know, good.

OK, sorry, I couldn't help myself.  Do you blame me for trying to derive some tiny measure of amusement from this irredeemable movie experience?  Look, there's so much wrong with The Lovely Bones that I hardly know where to start.  Rotten Tomatoes gave this garishly colored, tonally confused utter abortion of a movie the Rotten rating of 32%, and I'm tempted to say that that's being far too merciful (just as I'm tempted to wonder what the hell is wrong with the 32% who actually liked this wanton massacre of a story).  In fact, I think I'll kick off my own ranty review by passing the buck and linking to this hilariously irate response by a famously irreverent British movie blog and this takedown by Roger Ebert.

Congratulations, Peter Jackson, you've made a flick that's knocked 1998's execrable What Dreams May Come off its dubious pedestal as Worst Film Depiction Ever of the Afterlife.  (Besides, Shakespeare called and wants that Hamlet reference back.)  But, really, in the end my fundamental complaint about The Lovely Bones isn't about the psychedelic silliness of ghost-people prancing about in a cartoony "afterlife" that looks like a Katy Perry music video.  It's not about the lack of investment in the individual characters that ought to make you care about them, or even about the egregiously awful Susan Sarandon figure who attempts a music montage as comic relief that falls flatter than day-old soda.  It's not even about the abject emotional string-pulling that's evident in almost every scene - "the saccharine melodrama of it all" - when the director should have aimed for underplaying and subtlety instead.  It's not even - unbelievably - about one incident with an icicle that played out just like the episode of Dr. Sexy, MD  Grey's Anatomy that made me throw down the remote control in disgust and write off the show entirely.

So just what is my beef with The Lovely Bones?  It's the incoherence of the storytelling.  At its most fundamental level, a movie is a narrative, and that narrative has to make sense in itself with characters that have actual motivations and also comprehensible responses to the circumstances unfolding around them.  Randomness and non sequiturs are things to be scrupulously avoided.  Yet Peter Jackson seems to have taken his storytelling cues from another Jackson - Jackson Pollock.  Bits of story end up splattered all over the screen, but the disjointedness of it makes  the overarching narrative fail because there's no actual connection between the story and the audience, just as there's no apparent connection between the story and its own characters.  The resulting lack of a payoff at the end is simply unforgivable.  Jackson was apparently far more interested in playing around with his CGI afterlife fantasy-land than in developing actual human characters, and that is a mortal sin for a story that should have been character-driven from start to finish.  (Not that the goopy fantasy-land was trouble-free either; at one point, rumor has it, production stopped because Jackson and his art director couldn't agree on how to proceed.  Heh.)

Young Saoirse Ronan's narration helped marginally, but her breathy, slow, thin delivery combined with her huge staring eyes makes her seem more like some ancient oracle hopped up on fumes and twittering barely comprehensible words.  This is supposed to be a believable 14-year-old?  Anyway, by the time the long-suffering audience reaches the final scene, Jackson via Ronan throws a speech at us that, in the context of the movie's non-development, makes no sense because the words describe something that we haven't seen happening at all.  The fact that the speech actually name-checks the movie was just the last straw.  I threw up my hands and yelled, "I hate you!" at the TV.  That's only ever happened once before, and it wasn't pretty then either.

MM gives The Lovely Bones a grade of D.  It's rated PG-13, but you'll feel like you've been watching and fidgeting for 13 years by the time the end credits finally roll.  Please go watch anything else, anything!  Better yet, go read the actual Sebold novel (though I didn't bother when it was hot and now probably never will).  That poor novel.  It's now going to be the subject of campfire horror stories.

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