My 2010 New Year’s resolution is “More leisure!” and I followed my own advice on Friday, stopped working early, and headed out for a girls’ afternoon/evening of fun.  First stop, a movie, followed by some barbecue and drinks.  What a treat!

We saw The Lovely Bones, the story of a 14-year-old girl who is murdered and then watches her family – and her murderer – as she floats in the “in between” until she can move on to heaven.  It was a bit intense for this group, all of whom (except me) are mothers of young children or teens and felt the fear, anxiety, and horror of the film’s premise as only a mother can.  An interesting discussion ensued over drinks later, including talk of mixed feelings about having adolescents see this film.  On the one hand, it portrays the need to be careful and follow one’s instincts about whom to trust in a visceral way that kids would take to heart; on the other hand, it could easily produce a pervasive fear of and permanent “skeevies” about all strangers, especially solitary neighbors.

Like all of director Peter Jackson’s work, this movie is worth seeing. It tells the story (from the novel of the same name by Alice Sebold) faithfully and poignantly, with only the minimum amount of sap needed to convey the feelings of a 14-year-old girl. The acting is excellent, especially from 15-year-old Saoirse Ronan (who played Briony in Atonement) as Susie Salmon; Susie’s siblings Lindsey (Rose McIver) and little Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale) are adorable and real; Susan Sarandon is a force of nature as the chain-smoking, alcoholic grandmother; Micheal Imperioli is realistic yet empathetic as the cop who tries to find Susie; and Stanley Tucci is just utterly creepy – I don’t think I’ve been this disturbed by a portrayal of a serial killer since Ted Levine’s morbidly marvelous performance in Silence of the Lambs!  

Only the characters of the parents fell a little flat for me.  Rachel Weisz, though she looks fabulous in this film, doesn’t quite go over the edge of the anguish she’s supposed to be feeling, which gets bad enough for her to temporarily abandon her remaining family.  Perhaps it was just a matter of never getting a private moment with her in the film to see the desperate hopelessness – not getting a real sense of the mother’s grief indeed might have been due to the failure to include such a scene because Weisz is an expressive actor who can convey such depth of pain.  On the other hand, Mark Wahlberg as the father … well, he only seemed genuine when he was going after the killer with a baseball bat.  Maybe he should stick to action flicks like Shooter in which he can brood and kick butt, two things he does well.

On top of the earthly story of murder and its aftermath is an otherworldly layer of Susie’s experience in the afterlife.  And here the movie shines brilliantly.  The special effects of luminously colored landscapes and wardrobe, morphing from one incarnation to another, are a marvelous visual feast, reminiscent of What Dreams May Come.  One of the most powerful scenes involves Susie, shortly after her death, entering the home of the killer and seeing what’s left of her life – mud-caked, bloody clothes and a charm bracelet – while he reclines in the bathtub, soaking up what he’s just done. The bathroom is bathed in white light that starkly contrasts with the dirt and streaks of blood.  As Susie realizes what has happened to her, she screams hysterically in anger and denial until her phantom form disintegrates and floats away.  Positively chilling.

I avoided reading the book, which sat in my house for months, waiting for me to crack the spine, until I finally gave it away.  Most likely I didn’t have the stomach for a story about an innocent child’s abduction and murder – it is not the repose, edification, or thrill I typically seek from books. But I can take on the topic for two hours in the form of a movie.  What surprised me is how much I liked this film.  There are a few slow spots, but overall it truly is lovely.  In the end, it emphasizes that the often-messy, unfinished, and horribly unjust events of life do not have ultimate control – we can rise above them, whether we do it in this life or the next.

Mood:  reflective and appreciative