Much award prognosticating has been made of Stanley Tucci’s performance as a serial killer in The Lovely Bones. His quiet, creepy Mr. Harvey creates some fabulously suspenseful moments, but the problem with Tucci’s performance is representative of a greater problem with The Lovely Bones: all we get is a collection of asocial tics loosely wrapped in a cloak of menace. There’s no believable cohesion to Mr. Harvey; he’s a monster because he sits quietly in a chair, waiting for the narrative to return to him so he can say something odd that rings with doom.
And so The Lovely Bones is a collection of scenes that are not connected by tone, or narrative propulsion, or really anything but proximity. A good portion of the running time is taken up with montages—a glamorous fashion parade here, a half-dozen abandoned corpses of underage girls there, a wacky sequence featuring Susan Sarandon’s pill-popping grandmother failing at simple domestic tasks (she sweeps dust under a carpet!) over there—and none of them feel like they’re in the right film.
Saoirse Ronan is magnetic as Susie Salmon, the 14-year-old that Mr. Harvey murders, but all she does for the most part is narrate from the afterlife, which director Peter Jackson has imagined as an endless litany of 1970s airbrushed record album covers soaked in painfully obvious symbolism (did you know that roses symbolize innocence?). With all the flaws of its premise, The Lovely Bones as a novel at least felt like a raw, open psychic wound that gradually, over the course of the book, scarred over. It was a book about dying and grief and recovering from pain. Jackson’s adaptation, featuring Mark Wahlberg’s triumphant remounting of his Boogie Nights wig and Rachel Weisz’s inappropriate distance from the viewer, doesn’t seem to be about loss and recovery. Where it should feel intimate and intense, it feels cold; where emotions should be strongest, we get some crappy special effects instead. This tone deafness marks The Lovely Bones as Jackson’s first major failure as a director.