Alice Sebold's debut novel The Lovely Bonesthe story of 14-year-old Susie Salmon, the victim of a brutal rape and murder who narrates her story and watches those she left behind from a sort of heavenly in-between struck a chord with readers and became a best-seller in 2002. Now the film version from director Peter Jackson, renowned for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, arrives after several release delays.
Jackson, who has co-written the script with his usual collaborators, wife Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, brings forth an entertaining but strange hybridpart murder-mystery, part gooey teen romance/coming-of-age story, part philosophy lesson and part family drama. Although none of these parts really hangs together ( with the family material being the film's weakest element ) , the performance of Saoirse Ronan ( who played the tattling sister in Atonement ) as the pure-hearted but luckless Susie anchors the film, and will certainly help make it the hit with the teenage girls who make up Paramount's target audience.
The film is set in December 1973 in a suburban America not yet familiar with serial killers and pictures of missing kids on the back of milk cartons. Though Susie reminds us of this in voiceover at the outset, it's hard to recall such a world once existed or that the eccentric loner George Harvey ( Stanley Tucci ) , Susie's killer and the Salmon's neighbor ( who is given an overbite, thick glasses and a toupee with stringy bangs ) , wouldn't scream "murderer" to everyone else on the block.
But if the characters on screen ( including Michael Imperioli as a rather inept police detective ) don't seem to have a clue to Harvey's character kinks, Jackson makes damn sure the audience does. Tucci is repeatedly shown sitting in the dark in his house or car, engaging in suspicious activities, etc., until finally it dawns on Susie's dad ( Mark Wahlberg ) and sister ( Amanda Michalka ) that something ain't all there with this guy.
This overkill is matched by Jackson's visual interpretation of pre-heaven that reflects Susie's mood: When she's happy it's filled with sunshine, green hillsides and blue skies, and when she's sad or angry it's scary and dark. ( In one visually arresting sequence, reminiscent of The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, she recounts Harvey's other victims. )
As Susie is emotionally growing up her now-fractured family is falling apartespecially Rachel Weisz as the mother who can't handle her daughter's death or the father, who's obsessed with finding Susie's killer and takes off to work in a winery. Susan Sarandon ( as a glamorous granny, cocktail and cigarette in hand ) arrives to take charge and add some verve, although Jackson's decision to toss in a comic montage of her bad housekeeping habits ( scored to "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" ) throws the picture out of whack. None of the family stuff really resonates or is deeply explored, and it isn't until we get back to the murder-mystery stuff that the movie grinds back into gear.
Other than Ronan's emotionally inviting performance, Jackson's use of several vintage pieces and a new score by ambient music composer Brian Eno help give the audience the film's emotional temperature. By the fade-out, howeverwith revenge assured, the light beckoning and emotional closure in sightJackson might have risked something musically a tad more florid. Certainly by that point audience members ( depending on their emotional susceptibility ) will either be reaching for the Kleenex or making a mad dash to the exit.
Playwright and gay icon Tennessee Williams collaborated with director Elia Kazan on A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951 and Baby Doll in 1956. The two intended to work together on The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, which Williams penned in 1957. However, the project never happened and has gone unfilmed until now.
The movie is the feature debut of actor-turned-director Jodie Markell who, not surprisingly, has long desired to bring this forgotten work by one of our greatest playwrights to light. But though the script contains hints of the lyricism of the best of Williams ( "You're the cynosure of all eyes in the room" is just one choice sample of dialogue ) , this is not the galvanizing, deep-fried melodrama of Williams at his height but rather, the low fat version. Like that shopworn metaphor, The Loss of A Teardrop Diamond is somewhat tasty, but not particularly memorable.
The movie, set in Memphis and its hinterlands in 1923 ( which Markell's team have nicely recreated ) focuses on Fisher Willow ( Bryce Dallas Howard in an unflattering black pageboy ) , a southern Jezebel party girl who is a cross between the young Blanche DuBois and a petulant, demanding Scarlett O'Hara ( though, with Howard in the role, she's not nearly so riveting or bewitching a charmer as those two ) . Fisher, who has been schooled in Europe, is back home at the behest of her aunt ( Ann-Margret ) who holds the purse strings, to attend a series of debutante balls. Partly because of a tarnished reputation caused by her wild ways Fisher hires Jimmy ( Chris Evans ) who has charm, good looks and breeding but no moneyto escort her to the parties.
As the deb balls commence, Howard and Evans ( who looks smashing in a tux but, unfortunately, keeps his shirt on ) spar in practiced southern dialects, a rival presents herself and the titled piece of jewelry gets lost ( along with the illusions of pretty much all the characters ) . But other than Ellen Burstynwho has a few nice scenes as a paralyzed stroke victim and an opium addict looking for sweet releasenothing here really matches the over-the-top dramatic hallmarks of Williams ( or Kazan for that matter ) .
It's fun to imagine who would have played these star-crossed lovers back in 1957 if Williams and Kazan had gone forward with the filmJoanne Woodward and Paul Newman? Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner? Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift? Perhaps one of those megawatt couplings might have made more with the undernourished material. However, though I'm glad Markell's film has given us some unknown Williams to momentarily savor it's no surprise that this script went into the drawer, considering how it stacks up against other Williams-based films of Williams of that period, such as The Rose Tattoo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer.
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