Friday, October 29, 2010

The Lovely Bones.

The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson, 2009)

Category: Sad movie about murdered children. Let’s face it, adults: kids can be pretty annoying. From their inability to feed and clothe themselves to their ignorance of basic social etiquette (Emily Post definitely did not approve of crying in public places, let alone defecating), it’s clear that children are a handful, and usually not as fun to hang out with as grownups. However, it’s not really their fault, I guess, and, hey, some are actually pretty cute! (OHHHH LOOK AT THE BABY.)  So it’s generally considered to be poor form to murder them.

Srsly though, how terrible is it that this ever happens? It’s really inexplicable and quite sad. And like all things that are really inexplicable and quite sad, it’s often the basis of movies and plays and books and stuff. (That’s entertainment!) Such movies include Mystic River and The Pledge.

My familiarity with this issue: I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I’m very good with kids. A few summers ago I worked at a program for gifted kids (“nerd camp,” as I called it on my off-days), and was quite popular with the 9- and 10-year-olds that I supervised. They called me Mr. John. We did lots of science experiments, made fun things out of construction paper and pipe cleaners, and I took them on tours of the National Zoo and the Natural History Museum, during which I often told them outrageous lies. (For example, buffalo wings are made from the American buffalo, and our nation’s insatiable desire for wings is what caused the buffalo’s near-extinction.) We grew to be very close, the kids and I. None of them were murdered. I probably would have been sad if any of them had been.

As for my familiarity with the source material: I have not read Alice Sebold's 2002 book on which this movie is based. I do know that it is really, really popular, and therefore I assumed it probably sucked, as I do for most things that are really, really popular (Nickelback, Two and a Half Men, Twilight, etc). I have been assured by several friends (of the blog) whose opinions I trust that the book is actually good, while a few others disagreed. So that's something.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “A 14-year-old girl from suburban Pennsylvania who is murdered by her neighbor. She tells the story from the place between Heaven and Earth, showing the lives of the people around her and how they have changed all while attempting to get someone to find her lost body.”

What I thought of the movie: I have a confession to make. I couldn’t finish this movie. I just couldn’t. I watched it for an hour and five minutes (about half its running length) before I just had to stop. And honestly I don’t really care if you’re judging me for this because it’s my blog, and you didn’t have to watch this movie, and Jesus Christ it was terrible. (I read the Wikipedia entry for the movie so I know what happens in the rest of it. Suffice it to say I’m not second-guessing my decision.) I gave up on it when Susan Sarandon (as the alcoholic grandma) came to live with the (still-grieving) family, and Peter Jackson goes with a humorous montage of her trying to do housework but being a drunken, tobacco-addicted biddy instead, set to “Long Cool Woman” by the Hollies. At that point, I said, really loudly, “That’s it. I’m done.” Roommate of the blog Steve Pennartz was sitting in the other room and rushed in, alarmed.

So yeah. I hated it. Like, REALLY hated it. It was so awful. It was manipulative and fake and reprehensible and tone-deaf and so, so awful. It made me angry. I don’t know if the book was like this, because if it was, then what the hell? So many people like this book! Maybe it's just the movie. But to me, the whole premise of the book/movie just seems... wrong! I'm really puzzled by all of it.

And the execution in the movie is even worse. It felt like every choice Peter Jackson made was wrong. The narration, the pacing, the sequencing of scenes, the visual effects, everything. I guess the acting is fine; Saoirse Ronan is believable enough as the girl, Dirk Diggler Mark Wahlberg seems fine as the dad, and Stanley Tucci (Oscar-nominated for this role) is kind of over-the-top as the creepy killer, but I guess that’s what the role requires.

(Entirely too long side note: I distinctly remember this from this year’s Oscars: after they showed a clip of Tucci’s performance in the course of announcing the nominees, the camera cut to him, and he ROLLED HIS EYES. And then he mouthed something to the person next to him that I can only imagine was, “God what a terrible movie.” It was awesome. You can watch it here in this dodgy clip I found, starting at about the five-minute mark, and then – bonus! – you can watch Christoph Waltz be awesome right after the Tucci thing.)

But even good acting really can’t make up for the groaning, cloying, desperate bullshit that comprised the first sixty-five minutes of this movie. And it was only going to get worse. I'd seen my fill of Jackson's special-effects-laden vision of the afterlife. He piles on magnificent vista after magnificent stupid vista, mountains and valleys and seas and deserts, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. From what I've read there's a lot more of that in the second half. AWESOME.

How I, John Krizel, related to this movie: This is a movie about a child who is murdered. A sweet, innocent child who is also depicted as a really cool, nice, even heroic girl. That should be enough to make us feel sorry for her when she inevitably gets murdered, right? But no. Jackson (and presumably Sebold) make it so that the last thing that the girl does before up and getting herself murdered on the way home from school is to have the boy she's had an impossible mondo '70s middle school crush on confess that HE has a crush on HER too! And ask her on a date! And she comes thisclose to having her first kiss! As if we're supposed to say, "Oh no. Now it sucks even MORE that she gets murdered."

A detail like that is really reflective of why I could not relate to this movie at all. Because it so thoroughly botches material that would inspire really profound empathy in just about anyone, even if we were just watching it on the news. It does this to the point where I got angry that they were desecrating the memory of this poor, dead, fictional girl. I legitimately cannot understand how anyone could fall for it, how anyone could be moved by it at all. I know that making a movie is a tremendous undertaking, but you’re not supposed to see the work. You’re not supposed to be able to imagine the beads of sweat on Peter Jackson’s forehead as he tries way too hard to make us feel… something, anything. You’re supposed to relate to the characters, to empathize with them as they go through something so, so terrible, something that is difficult to even think about happening to anyone I know, something that I pray I never have to go through. But you’re just so distracted by all the bullshit, and you feel it eat away at your soul and it gets worse and worse and eventually you just switch it off and scream, “That’s it. I’m done” to no one, and then you have to explain to Steve why it's so bad, which only makes you madder, and then you go drink an iced tea and sit down again and start angrily typing run-on sentences.

How I felt after the movie ended: I’ll never know.

How I felt after giving up on the movie halfway through it: I felt guilty at first. But now I'm just so excited for the opportunity to do anything else at all other than finish that movie. Yeesh.

UPDATE: In retrospect, I realize I should have more directly acknowledged the fact that it's not fair to judge the movie based only on its first hour or so. So yeah. If the second half of the movie is a lot better, then hey it's my loss, isn't it? Also I'm sorry if I offended anyone who liked this movie, especially if they particularly liked the second half which I couldn't be bothered to watch. Oof.


  1. I have neither seen the movie nor read the book, but I remembered reviews criticizing the adaptation to screen. Quoth DCist (

    "Surprisingly, Jackson and his writing partners, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, who were so slavish in their dedication to faithful adaptation in The Lord of the Rings, have recreated Sebold's work with an extremely broad revisionist brush. That's not a criticism: few novels lend themselves to direct transposition to the screen. But Jackson's criteria for what to keep, what to excise, and what to change is haphazard at best. More often, it directly subverts the intentions of the source material... Fans of the book will likely find themselves infuriated by what Jackson has done here, while those haven't read it will just be confused and confounded at how such a talented storyteller has managed such an awkward and unsatisfying tale."

    So, don't write off Sebold!

    P.S. This blog is great.

  2. i do believe Tucci is saying "awful" as the camera cuts away from him.

  3. I hated the book, looks like I'm not gonna be watching the movie either.