Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Lovely Bones

Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Susie Salmon should be falling in love. She should be hanging out with her friends, having dinner with her family, and keeping up with the 1973 pop culture and fashion like any other 14 year old girl of the time. Instead, her life is cut short by a monstrous neighbor, leaving Susie to watch the impact that her murder has on her friends, family and killer from her own unique afterlife.

The Lovely Bones is an adaptation of a 2002 best-selling novel of the same title, updated to film by the team behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, and (in 2011 and 2012) the Hobbit films. They are, of course, no strangers to adapting works of other mediums into movies. However, they've taken a bit of a misstep with this one. Using their creative license, Peter Jackson and the other writers have shifted the story's focus from a family's methods of coping with tragedy into one that never has a full realization of what it's about.

The title of the book, The Lovely Bones, refers to the growth of Susie's family and friends after they fall apart in mourning for the young girl. In the movie, they never make that recovery because they never lose themselves enough to create a need to recover. All sex, guilt, back-story, and the reasoning behind certain relationships are removed in order to make a PG-13 film with plenty of time for Jackson to play around with the special effect-laden heaven.

The magnificent acting of Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon and Stanley Tucci as George Harvey (her killer) hold the film together, though, and provide the emotional depth needed to keep the audience intrigued. Mark Wahlberg and Susan Sarandon also play interesting and contrasting roles as Susie's grieving father (bent on catching the killer, whom he believes to be Mr. Harvey) and her eccentric grandmother, who provides useful advice to the characters and comic relief from the depressing story to the audience.

While not bad per se, The Lovely Bones is only a shell of its source material. Crammed down from an eight year timeline to less than one, it is rushed and unfulfilling. Those unable to read the book may find this to be a tofu of sorts, providing at least a substitute for a better option. But for everybody else it will prove, once again, that the original is (almost*) always better.

*see Youth in Revolt review

Youth in Revolt

Running Time: An hour and a half
MPAA Rating: R

Nick Twisp wants what every high school guy does when portrayed in an R-rated movie: to lose his virginity. He is kept from fulfilling his goal by his unusual tastes in pop culture and passive attitude, turning off most of the girls his age that he comes across. When beautiful Sheeni Saunders enters his life, sharing his love for Frank Sinatra and obscure films, the only thing keeping them apart is his inability make a definitive move to steal her heart from her current egotistic boyfriend.

Youth in Revolt sets itself up in the same way (500) Days of Summer did last year. Boy meets girl who seems extraordinarily perfect for him, falls in love, and the relationship is brought to a sudden halt, leaving the boy reeling. However, instead of the limerent obsession Joseph-Gordon Levitt's character kept for Zooey Deschanel's, protagonist Nick Twisp creates an alternate personality named Francois (Sheeni's imaginary French lover) to express his rebellious side in an attempt to overcome circumstances and win the girl.

This movie is one of a rare few that manage to outperform their source material. Youth in Revolt strengthens the comedic timing and storytelling in its adaptation, making it feel more like Superbad than any of the other "high school virgin comedy" genre of films. The coming-of-age book that it is based on is about and targeted toward an age group that won't be able to purchase their own tickets at most theaters, which is a bold move from the filmmakers.

To nitpick a little bit, it does pull me out of the experience whenever people in their 20s (or, unfortunately, older) play pubescent high school kids in movies. Michael Cera seems to be eternally trapped in high school (what a nightmare) as almost all of his movies have placed him back into his angsty, yet witty and intelligent student character role. But that is far from enough to not recommend this movie.

Youth in Revolt is a great love comedy that will likely appeal to fans of (500) Days of Summer without being redundant or stereotypical. It is sweet, funny, and over all a great way to start off the movie-going year.