From book to film: How does "The Lovely Bones" fare?

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Just based on subject matter, "The Lovely Bones" (Alice Sebold's 2002 novel about the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl who goes on to watch her family and friends from "beyond") always seemed an unlikely candidate for a bestseller. But bestseller it was and now director Peter Jackson has taken on the challenge of turning that tale into a mainstream movie.

Does he succeed? Depends on who you ask. After last month's London premiere, the Guardian damned the film with faint praise and a two-star review, allowing at best that, "It's not that 'The Lovely Bones' is a bad movie, exactly." Reviewer Xan Brooks concedes that, "It is handsomely made and strongly acted" with a "woozy, lullaby ambience."

However, Brooks also goes on to accuse Jackson of a lack of courage. He writes that, while "Sebold's novel was not scared to look the central horror in the face ... [t]he screen version, by contrast, is so infuriatingly coy, and so desperate to preserve the modesty of its soulful victim that it amounts to an ongoing clean-up operation."

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Here in the US, where the film is set to debut this Friday, Regina Weinreich, writing for Huffington Post, is calling the movie a "must-see" based on great performances by cast members (Stanley Tucci in particular).  Weinreich notes, however, that the scenes with Susie, the protagonist, watching friends and family from a pastel-colored paradise, "don't always work."

Reviewing the novel for the Monitor in 2002, former Monitor book editor Ron Charles was also underwhelmed by some aspects of Susie in paradise, particularly noting that the novel comes with "a heavy serving of spiritualism" and a form of spirituality designed "for an age that’s ecumenical to a fault."

But emotionally, Charles called the novel "faultless." He wrote that Sebold, a victim of rape herself while in college, "never slips as she follows this family. The risks she walks are enough to give you vertigo."

EW.com is running a poll this week asking: "Should I read 'The Lovely Bones' before seeing the film?"  So far the majority of readers seem to be saying: "Yes – don't make the mistake of saving the best for last."

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe.

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