We liked the film, for sure. It did have some stellar special effects in it; the scenery in Susie’s afterlife was breathtaking, with gorgeous colors, nature, and fantastical elements like giant bouncy balls and walking on water. Sarandon was also hilarious and perfect in her role, a usual, and a pleasure to watch. Most of the acting, in fact, was well carried out, unsurprisingly by the hugely talented cast (I’ve never been a Wahlberg fan, but he did well in this film) and especially by Saoirse Ronan, whom we’ve come to expect great things from since Atonement. With all of these things and Peter Jackson directing, you’d think a moving hit—if not a blockbuster, at least an award-winner—would be in store.
Except… you’re just left wanting as the credits roll.
So much is cut from Sebold’s achingly beautiful book—which, of course, is to be expected; how many book lovers are disappointed when their beloved reads are made into chopped up films ever year? If you’ve read the book, the rule is to never, with few exceptions, expect too much out of the film version (though some adaptations—The First Wives’ Club and Forrest Gump, for example, were far better than their literary versions). At any rate, that’s expected.
But what the film removed from the book was its entire sense of familial togetherness, brokenness, and closure throughout the work. The entire film feels pointless, even without being compared to the novel. So much is left unsaid, unfelt; the really gritty parts of the family’s brokenness are left untouched, and Susie’s final actions before fully moving on—a love scene with the boy she liked, her involvement in her murderer’s death—are left ambiguous at best, or out altogether, depending on how you look at it. Tenderness between Susie’s dad and a neighbor woman, her sister and her sister’s love interest, etc. are all also omitted as if they never happened.
In short, the real problems that a family faces in crisis are cut to the bare minimum—the mother leaving for a short period of time, the family being sad, though not as sad as you might expect—leaving the watcher feeling hollow when it ends. What healing has really occurred? What closure was really provided? It simply lacks the depth and poignancy of Sebold’s lovely novel. Yes, it’s worth watching—but waiting for the DVD to rent might be a better option.