The Hunt For The Worst Movie Of All Time: The Lovely Bones

I hate Alice Sebold’s novel, The Lovely Bones. It is probably one of my least favorite books of all time. It’s basically the Tuesdays with Morrie (another horrible horrible book) of child-rape/murder. Oh, make no mistake, if you want to read a book in which a child is raped and murdered but you ALSO want it to be filled with trite macrame-philosophy about the meaning of life and have a happy ending, then there is nothing better than The Lovely Bones. But why do you want that? Maybe you should go to your therapist, or if you don’t have a therapist, get a therapist and go to your therapist, and figure out why you want that. But for as much as I hate The Lovely Bones as a book, it is as nothing as compared to how much I now hate The Lovely Bones as a movie. At the very least, The Lovely Bones: the Book was probably a way for Alice Sebold to work through the personal trauma of being raped (which she also writes about in her memoir Lucky) and we all just had the misfortune of sitting in on her Dream Journal (Nightmare Journal?) or whatever. The movie, on the other hand, isn’t helping anyone, not even Alice Sebold. It is just a big pile of trash, and it should be unceremoniously dumped into a sink hole and covered with dirt.

The Lovely Bones takes place in the 1970s in suburban America and centers around Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, of Hanna), a 14-year-old girl who loves going to the mall and taking photos with her camera. She also loves getting murdered by a neighbor. Well, she might not love that last part, but it is one of the three things we learn about her as a human being. Oh, wait, no, she also owns a pair of yellow pants, so we know four things about her. Anyway, now she is in heaven and her family is sad. There is a police investigation but that doesn’t lead anywhere. Meanwhile, in heaven, Susie tries on new outfits?

But she is not ready to become pure energy or something, so she mostly hangs out in heaven’s gazebo, staring at her dad through a window. Eventually, everyone figures out that it was the comical next door neighbor, Stanely Tucci, who seems to have ordered his outfits and mustache from the back pages of some kind of Pervert Catalog. Seriously, if you look up “amusement park caricature of a child sex pervert” there is a drawing of Chris Hansen holding up a drawing of Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones.

And not a moment too soon! Because it seems like Stanley Tucci had started thinking about murdering Susie’s teenage sister, too. Yikes! He keeps a scrapbook about her. She is definitely in the newspaper just the average amount of times for any teenager. We’ve all been in the newspaper this much before the age of 16, I’m sure.


So it turns out Stanely Tucci is a serial killer, but it also turns out that Michael Imperioli can’t arrest him without evidence. Then they get some evidence, but now he knows that he has been discovered so he just runs away. Susie’s body is in a potato sack in a safe, and that safe gets dumped in a sinkhole and covered with dirt (call back!) but FIRST, Susie gets a disgusting GHOST KISS.

Now she is ready to be an angel in heaven, I guess. Stanley Tucci gets murdered by an icicle a couple years later. And in 1992, R.E.M. release the hit single, “Everybody Hurts.”

As a rule, movies should not depict heaven. It is always a mistake. CGI mountains? CGI magic-heaven-leaf fights?

No. It is so dumb! Not only because heaven doesn’t actually exist, but because if it did exist, and it looked like that, it would be a bummer. The whole point of transcendent, eternal, unworldly beauty is that you can’t make it a set-piece. That’s like, heaven’s whole schtick. Trying to create some kind of Pixar (or actually more like “from the people who brought you Kung Fu Panda“) version of the afterlife is like casting Alanis Morrisette as God. Just don’t do that. Why do you do that?! I mean, look at this shit:

Ain’t no party like a dead girl party cuz a dead girl party don’t BARF.

Actually, before we move on from the whole heaven thing, since that is a pretty huge part of what the whole movie is basically about, what is up with the little girl who just got killed having to pass through her murderer’s disgusting bathroom first? Is that part of heaven?


I had never heard of that before, but apparently that is what happens when we die? We go to a spooky bathroom first and then we try on different outfits and sit in a gazebo in the spirit woods?

The real problem with this movie, though, is that it abandons the point of the book from which it was adapted. Make no mistake: I hate that book, and while I in no way condone censorship and would be disturbed of the Nazi-echoes of a public book burning, if the only book being burned was The Lovely Bones, I would quietly disapprove on moral grounds probably but wouldn’t make that big a deal out of it. But the book was an examination of the ways in which a family is affected and nearly destroyed by a horrific crime. Yes, the pursuit of Susie’s killer is definitely a big part of the book, as is her soulful grappling with “letting the world go,” or whatever (classic angel stuff) but the fundamental story the book is trying to tell is about her family. Here, not so much! Here it’s mostly just a murder mystery. A murder mystery and also a heaven party. To make matters worse, at numerous moments throughout the film, members of Susie’s family are aided in their investigation into her death by her ghost. She makes a candle burn brighter, and screams peoples’ names, and makes a rose come back to life. WHERE ARE THE COPS, WHY ARE THE COPS NOT DOING THEIR JOBS, WHY DOES THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR JUSTICE FALL IN THE HANDS OF A GHOST DETECTIVE?!

Oh, and here’s another thing: so, everyone figures out that Stanley Tucci is the murderer, right, and Susie’s sister even finds damning evidence in the form of a book of murder-club sketches and locks of hair hidden under the floorboards of Stanley Tucci’s bedroom. But when the cops get there, he has already fled. We learn that he is killed later by an icicle (in the process of trying to murder another woman, as if somehow that is supposed to make us feel better?) but meanwhile back in the Salmon household, everything is fine and dandy. Do you see what I am saying? AS FAR AS THEY KNOW THERE IS STILL A TERRIBLE CHILD SEX MURDERER OUT ON THE LOOSE AND NO ONE GIVES A CRAP. “Well, at least he doesn’t live across the street from us anymore. I sure hope he doesn’t murder any more little girls, but what can you do.” Yikes.

Most importantly, though, the movie has basically taken out the whole rape thing. I guess Stanley Tucci might have raped her, but it’s hardly even suggested, really. Now, I’m not saying I want to see a movie about a child being raped and murdered, but I’m not the one who wrote the book, or that bought the rights, or adapted it into a screenplay. If you’re going to make a movie about a family dealing with the death of a child who was raped and murdered, then you might as well make a movie about a family dealing with the death of a child who was raped and murdered. KIND OF A TOUGH THING TO SUGARCOAT OR MAKE SLIGHTLY NOT REALLY AT ALL MORE PLEASANT. The Lovely Bones, now with less child rape! Bring your children!”

Ugh. The Lovely Bones is even worse than What Dreams May Come*, and What Dreams May Come is TERRIBLE. This may very well be in the top 10 Worst Movies of All Time, but at the very least, it is definitely the Worst Movie About Heaven of All Time. Case closed.

Next week: The Quiet. As always, please leave your suggestions in the comments or in an email. And if you haven’t done so already, please consult the Official Rules.

*Incidentally, both The Lovely Bones and What Dreams May Come depictions of heaven feature a female Asian tour guide. WHAT IS THAT ALL ABOUT?