A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that director Peter Jackson's drama based on Alice Sebold's best-selling book The Lovely Bones centers on the aftermath of an enormous tragedy: the death of a child (though the actual death itself isn't shown on screen). The intense subject matter -- murder and molestation -- may overwhelm younger teens. Although the movie's messages about love and loss are ultimately positive, the film is often deeply sorrowful and, at times, quite violent (images include dead bodies, bloody clothes, and more). Language includes mostly name-calling; there's also some kissing, and one older character smokes and drinks in front of children.
What's the story?
Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) has her whole life ahead of her -- filled, hopefully, with boys, a photographable world, and family. Only she doesn’t. When a neighbor (Stanley Tucci) lures her to a bunker, she's murdered, which sends her soul in limbo to watch those she's left behind. Her mother (Rachel Weisz), is so shattered that she has to flee; her father (Mark Wahlberg) grows obsessed. Only one thing will set them all free: The capture of Susie's murderer, who continues to go about his days, trying to keep a lid on his monstrous urges.
Is it any good?
As Susie, Ronan is infinitely watchable: She’s compelling every time she’s on screen. Her sadness plumbs depths; her joy soars. And when it’s clear that she’s been hurt, the impact is enormous. Losing her is palpable, and that’s critical, considering that she’s the story’s pivot point. Wahlberg and Weisz are strong, too, though perhaps not as gripping, as is Rose McIver as Susie’s younger sister. But Tucci: Though terrifying, he tragically plays to type. You can spot his child molester a mile away.
THE LOVELY BONES loses its way when it spends too much time in a place where director Peter Jackson is clearly comfortable: the in-between (the place between Heaven and Earth). Painted with visually arresting CG effects, this place is a sight to behold, a lyrical middle earth. But Jackson lingers there way too long, slowing down the movie's pace. Unfortunately that comes at the expense of the family’s unraveling, which seems painted in over-broad stroke.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages. Do the violence and intense subject matter make it harder to see the positive take-aways, or do they come through?
How does the impact of the violence in a movie like this compare to that of an action/sci-fi movie? Which affects you more? Why?
Talk about the events that lead up to Susie’s murder. What lessons can be gleaned from the tragedy? Why is Susie stuck in the in-between?
How did Susie’s death affect everyone, including herself? Do these reactions seem believable? How does everyone find peace?
- In theaters: January 15, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: April 20, 2010
- Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Saoirse Ronan
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 135 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language
For kids who love drama and thrills
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.