The Lovely Bones has finally made it into theaters — well, three theaters; it’s in limited release until Christmas. It opened strong, pulling in $116,000 for a per-screen average of just under $39,000. If the movie, an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s bestseller, holds up over the coming weeks, it’ll be thanks to the many, many fans of the novel, and to the legions of die-hard devotees of director Peter Jackson.

Because Bones certainly won’t be benefiting from an abundance of critical love. For the first time since his days of making gross-out, low-budget wonders like Meet the Feebles, Jackson earned a round of reviews that were lukewarm at best, scathing at worst. The most widespread gripe? That the Oscar-sweeping Lord of the Rings guru indulged too much in CGI at the expense of emotion and consistent storytelling. (See EW’s review by Lisa Schwarzbaum here).

But even the harshest reviews (like Variety’s — ouch!) have pointed out at least one positive: the brilliance of lead actress Saoirse Ronan (above, with costar Rose McIver). The New York Times applauded her “unnerving self-assurance and winning vivacity,” while The Los Angeles Times went even further, arguing that Jackson’s “best move by far was casting young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, Oscar-nominated for her compelling role in Atonement, as the murdered Susie Salmon. An enormously gifted performer, Ronan is the only element of the film that is exactly as it should be, bringing naturalness, honesty and radiance to the part of a young woman just on the cusp of life.” Click on over to The Hollywood Reporter, Newsweek, and Slate, where you’ll find similar adulation for Ronan.

I’ll leave it to Dave Karger to ponder whether Ronan’s got enough critical affection to snag an Oscar nom. I’m hoping she will. She’s a prodigiously talented actress and a cool kid to boot, mercifully devoid of any of that weird, overly precious kid-actor stuff that plagues so many youngsters in Hollywood. (Maybe it’s ’cause she lives in her native Ireland, a good 6,000 miles away from the ego-inflating bubble of Tinseltown?) Plus, she can spoof Britney Spears as well as any SNL-er. Don’t believe me? Check out the embedded clip below. It’s from Amy Heckerling’s I Could Never Be Your Women, which she shot when she was barely out of elementary school.

Awesome, right?

So are you pulling for young Ms. Ronan, PopWatchers? What about Mr. Jackson? Do you love him enough to ignore reviews? Will you see The Lovely Bones?