Peter Jackson adapts a literary bestseller, a forgotten Tennessee Williams script is found
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Loss & Found:
The Lovely Bones-The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond
Expanded Edition of 1-13-10 KATM Windy City Times Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.
Alice Sebold’s debut novel The Lovely Bones, the story of 14 year-old Susie Salmon who is the
victim of a brutal rape and murder who narrates her story and watches those she left behind from a
sort of Heavenly in-between struck a chord with readers and became a bestseller in 2002.  Now the
film version from director Peter Jackson, renowned for
The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong,
arrives after several release delays.

Jackson, who has co-written the script with his usual collaborators, wife Fran Walsh and Philippa
Boyens, brings forth an entertaining but strange hybrid – part murder mystery, part gooey teen
romance/coming of age story, part philosophy lesson, part family drama.  Though none of these
parts really hang together (with the family material being the film’s weakest element), the
performance of Saoirse Ronan (who played the tattling sister in Atonement) as the pure hearted but
luckless Susie anchors the film and will certainly help make it the hit with teenage girls that
Paramount is angling it toward.

The film is set in December of 1973 in a suburban America not yet familiar with serial killers and
pictures of missing kids on the back of milk cartons.  Though Susie reminds us of this in voice over
at the outset it’s hard to recall such a world once existed or that the eccentric loner character of
George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), Susie’s killer and the Salmon’s neighbor (who is given an overbite,
thick glasses and a toupee with stringy bangs), wouldn’t scream “murderer” to everyone else on the

But if the characters on screen (including Michael Imperioli as a rather inept police detective) don’t
seem to have a clue to Harvey’s character kinks Jackson makes damn sure the audience does.  Tucci
is repeatedly shown sitting in the dark in his house or car, engaging in suspicious activities, etc. until
finally it dawns on Susie’s dad (Mark Wahlberg) and her sister (Amanda Michalka) that something
ain't all there with this guy.

This overkill is matched by Jackson’s visual interpretation of pre-Heaven which reflects Susie’s mood
– when she’s happy it’s filled with sunshine, green hillsides and blue skies and when she’s sad or
angry it’s scary and dark (in one visually arresting sequence, reminiscent of The Nightmare on Elm
Street franchise, she recounts Harvey’s other victims).

As Susie is emotionally growing up her now fractured family is falling apart – especially Rachel Weisz
as her mother who can’t handle her death or the father’s obsession with finding Susie’s killer and
takes off to work in a winery.  Susan Sarandon as a glamorous granny, cocktail and cigarette in hand,
arrives to take charge and add some verve though Jackson’s decision to toss in a comic montage of
her bad housekeeping habits (scored to “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress”) throws the picture out
of whack.  None of the family stuff really resonates or is deeply explored and it isn’t until we get back
to the murder mystery that the movie grinds back into gear.

Other than Ronan’s emotionally inviting performance, Jackson’s use of several vintage pieces and a
new score by ambient music composer Brian Eno help give the audience the film’s emotional
temperature (this works especially well at the outset of the picture).  By the fade out of
The Lovely
, however, with revenge assured, the light beckoning, emotional closure in sight, Jackson might
have risked something musically a tad more florid.  Certainly by that point audience members –
depending on their emotional susceptibility – will either be reaching for the Kleenex or making a mad
dash to the exit.  


Playwright and gay icon Tennessee Williams collaborated with director Elia Kazan on
A Streetcar Named
in 1951 and Baby Doll in 1956.  The two intended to work together on The Loss of a
Teardrop Diamond which Williams penned in 1957 but the project never happened and has gone
unfilmed until now.

The movie is the feature debut of actor turned director Jodie Markell who, not surprisingly, has long
desired to bring this forgotten work by one of our greatest playwrights to light.  But though the script
contains hints of the lyricism of the best of Williams (“Things that one elects are often circumvented
by others” and “You’re the cynosure of all eyes in the room” are just two choice samples of dialogue),
this is not the galvanizing, deep fried melodrama of Tennessee Williams at his height but rather, the
low fat version.  Like that shopworn metaphor,
The Loss of A Teardrop Diamond is somewhat tasty, but
not particularly memorable.

The movie, set in Memphis and its hinterlands in 1923 (which Markell’s team have nicely recreated)
focuses on Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard in an unflattering black pageboy), a southern Jezebel
party girl who is a cross between the young Blanche DuBois and a petulant, demanding Scarlett
O'Hara (though with Howard in the role she’s not nearly so riveting or bewitching a charmer as those
two).  Fisher, who has been schooled in Europe is back home at the behest of her aunt (Ann Margret)
who holds the purse strings, to attend a series of debutante balls.  Partly because of a tarnished
reputation caused by her wild ways Fisher hires Jimmy (Chris Evans), who has charm, good looks and
breeding but no money, to escort her to the parties.

As the Deb balls commence Howard and Evans (who looks smashing in a tux but unfortunately keeps
his shirt on) spar in practiced southern dialects, a rival presents herself, and the titled piece of jewelry
gets lost (along with the illusions of pretty much all the characters).  But other than Ellen Burstyn, who
has a few nice scenes as a paralyzed stroke victim, an opium addict looking for sweet release,
nothing here really matches the over the top dramatic hallmarks of Williams (or Kazan for that

It’s fun to imagine who would have played these star crossed lovers back in 1957 if Williams and
Kazan had gone forward with the film – Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman?  Natalie Wood and
Robert Wagner?  Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift?  Perhaps one of those mega watt couplings
might have made more with the under nourished material but though I’m glad Markell’s film has
given us some unknown Williams to momentarily saver – stacked up against the other films based
on the works of Williams of the period –
The Rose Tattoo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly, Last Summer,
etc. – it’s no surprise that this script went into the drawer.
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