Painted with ethereal landscapes and gripping imagery of seemingly innocuous people and objects turned foreboding with artful camerawork and editing, The Lovely Bones transports us to a quaint Pennsylvania town, tainted with the murder of fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon (15-year-old Saorise Ronan). It seems that a mustachioed serial killer with a thing for stalking young girls (Stanley Tucci, from Julie & Julia and The Terminal) has literally carved out a place for himself in Norristown.
Susie's entrapment and murder come early in the plot -- so no, this detail is not a spoiler. And it's also not spoiling anything to say that she tells her story from the "in-between," an alternately beautiful and nightmarish purgatorial realm. Evidently time lapses at the same rate in purgatory, since Jackson intercuts between her watching loved ones from afar and the unfolding story of her family (which includes Mark Wahlberg as the ship-in-a-bottle-building father and Susan Sarandon as the boozy, chain-smoking grandmother). Sebold's story allows some overlap between the two worlds.
There are so many genres at play here, running all alongside each other. Some might argue that a multi-faceted approach might be a weakness -- perhaps Peter Jackson can't decide what kind of movie it is, so he tries everything. That is certainly the case in other movies, but I enjoyed seeing this story don a number of hats: teenage romance, horror movie, science fiction, family drama. My main problems came with the musical scoring (too melodramatic and painstakingly obvious) and with the ending, which attempted to accomplish too much without earning it.
Checking RottenTomatoes now, I can see that most critics didn't think too much of this film. I won't argue that this movie was flawed, with a few pointless scenes and hollow symbolism. At times Susie's love story reminded me a little bit of Twilight, with her adoring the guy a little too much for reasons we aren't sure of. Overall, though, I did enjoy The Lovely Bones, and would certainly recommend it for DVD rental -- if not theater viewing -- to see Sebold's breathtaking vision of the afterlife.
Side note: I recommend catching new releases at theaters that sell beer whenever possible. This was the case seeing The Lovely Bones at the Galleria 6, and, off the top of my head, I know for sure that the Tivoli and Plaza Frontenac also sell booze along with their popcorn. Make sure to buy at least two so you don't have to nurse the one until it becomes lukewarm.