(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)
Why I added it to my queue: Because it's the latest by Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson, an adaptation of the brilliantly sad Alice Sebold novel, so notoriously Jacksonian that I didn't even realize until watching it that it stars Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci. And I'm already a big fan of his earlier Heavenly Creatures, so know that at least in theory he can do character dramas right.
The reality: Of course, doing one good character drama doesn't necessarily mean that all the rest you try are going to be good too; and here unfortunately Jackson badly, badly errs in his adaptation, essentially playing up the exact wrong elements of Sebold's original while virtually ignoring all the things that make the novel version work so well. See, the whole reason that the book is such a powerful hit is that it delves so deeply into characterization, using the storyline's main gimmicky conceit (that the narrator is a murdered teenage girl, watching the aftermath of her own death from a heaven-like purgatory) as just that, a simple gimmick that allows Sebold to use the girl as a literal Greek chorus of sorts, who gets to spy omnisciently on private character-building moments of all the people who used to be in her life, as a way of delivering a highly unique meditation on grief, loss and coping. Jackson, however, makes this heaven-like gimmick the main focus of his own interpretation, using his fancy-schmancy Weta resources from LOTR to deliver just an endless series of impressive yet ultimately empty visual images of this fantasyland-type afterlife, unfortunately at the expense of developing any of the characters beyond the cardboard-like weepy stereotypes needed for them to exist at all. I have to imagine that if you've never read the book, the movie will come as a real puzzle, as far as trying to figure out why people go so nuts over the novel in the first place; and if you are an existing fan of the book like I am, you're going to be actively angry over this pandering, reductionist adaptation. It's a real shame, and makes me wonder if Jackson is ever going to recover from his millennial LOTR success and subsequent artistic crash.
Strangest piece of trivia: For his role as the girl's pasty Caucasian killer, Tucci had his skin lightened, his arm hair dyed to match his blonde wig, and wore a fat suit, contact lenses and false teeth.
Worth your time? No