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The Lovely Bones

Peter Jackson is due a bit of a hammering. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a pretty unmitigated success and he is (was!) yet to make a bad film. With The Lovely Bones, he seems to have invited the inevitable with an almost gleefully bad effort.

The strange alchemy of film: everything here works; the performances are fine (they just belong in different films, other than Stanley Tucci), everything looks suitably seventies and the music (opening up with Brian Eno – bang on) is perfect. But the whole thing, after a decentish opening half-hour, falls to bits in such a calamitous fashion you have to admire the stubborn wrong-headedness behind it.

Saoirse Ronan is great as Susie Salmon, a spritely moppet with everything to look forward to: a potential boyfriend that looks like a cross between Lewis Hamilton and Mick Robertson from Magpie, and at the very least several more decades of carefree, gladhearted existence. This is until Stanley Tucci’s wonderfully creepy neighbour George Harvey builds an underground lure and unconvincingly veers Susie off her trip home (across extremely exposed ground that can be seen for miles around, surely) and into a cosy, child-friendly trap. Tucci really is impressively unhinged, like Rainman meets Hannibal Lecter, and the flimsy mask of normality slips from an at best teetering position. You see the attempted escape but not the grim fate; Susie is already jogging around a limbo version of her old home town in slow-mo before you realise that what was earlier promised in voiceover (‘I was raped and murdered’) has come to pass. (Though there is a bizarre and effective ‘dream’ sequence in her ‘afterlife’ house, where Ronan wanders into an eye-clenchingly white bathroom to find a bloodied razor on the sink and Tucci laying in the bath, cloth draped across his face, the removal of which prompts her to scream.)

Thereafter Tucci rids himself of any trace of Salmon, burning items of clothing and tidying up and tries to reposition his façade of innocuous suburbanity. Dad Wahlberg is a man possessed and won’t rest until the perpetrator has come to justice, avidly scrutinising and background-checking all the neighbours (until he’s hospitalised in a contrived scene). Mum Weisz capitulates and drags Grandma Sarandon in to keep things afloat before eventually heading off to an apple orchard. Sister Lindsey eventually continues to pursue suspicions of Harvey on her own as Susie looks on from Heaven. She’s made a new friend since being murdered and they encourage her to forget about Earth, but Susie can’t.

From there it all comes together with shades of Ghost and everything works out. And it’s always good to see the baddie offed (but rarely as unsatisfying). Susie notices that her sister is about to get married to her potential boyfriend and that she’s still dead, but it’s not all bad. She will never be in a film as ridiculous ever again.

The film lurches from daft scene to weirdly twee sequence like a mad, oblivious Labrador and zips through the insanity with a kind of nonchalant infantilism. It all often looks wonderful but it’s a surreally wasteful collection of well-made scenes that collide rather than gel, and your sympathies will lie nowhere as the Heaven Susie ends up in looks like a bit of a blast.

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