Stars: Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Rhys Ifans, Judi Dench, Scott Glenn, Pete Postlewaite
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Writer: Robert Nelson Jacobs, based on the novel by E. Annie Proulx
The Shipping News is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Annie Proulx, and although severly truncated and some believe, miscast with Kevin Spacey in the lead (not me), I think the film exudes a certain charm thanks in large part to starkly beautiful scenery, imaginative cinematography and a top-notch supporting cast.
Kevin Spacey plays Quoyle, a lumpy oaf whose spark for life died way back in childhood at the hands of his cruel father who expected a loser son and got one. As the years pass, Quoyle surrenders to an especially boring existence and a lousy job as a newspaper ink-setter in Upstate New York. He has a few shining moments upon meeting and then marrying a free-spirited, rough-edged maneater named Petal Bear (once again, the hardly recognizable Cate Blanchett). A child is produced, named Bunny and even she comes to believe that Quoyle is a drag. Petal hangs around for as long as she can stand it, bringing home her barroom conquests to further rub Quoyle’s nose in his failures.
Then one day, Petal drives off, off the road, that is, leaving the schlump and the kid to figure things out. Another tragedy, quickly on the heels of this one, turns Quoyle into a simpering mess, with no ability to cope. And just as quickly, a fortuitous visit from his pragmatic Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) results in a move by the threesome to their ancestral home in a Newfoundland fishing village where, presumably, they can all start their miserable lives over.
Agnis’ old house sits high on a flat, bashed so hard by the unforgiving weather that it must be lashed to the ground to stay put. It’s been vacant for over 40-years and looks it. Nevertheless they move in and with the help of a local carpenter, it’s made homey again. Agnis discovers a need for her talents making boat upholstery while, without a stitch of writing experience, Quoyle gets work at the local newspaper, The Gammy Bird, as a reporter writing about car crashes and the shipping news as he struggles to pull his life back together.
Without the help of The Gammy Bird’s quirky and solicitous characters, Quoyle would be hardpressed to be anything other than the bore that he is. But, here he finds himself challenged and surprisingly up to the task to bring life to the stories he reports. He’s both taunted and guided by part-absentee owner Jack Buggit (Scott Glenn), gruff managing editor Tert X. Card (Pete Postlethwaite), carefree foreign news reporter Beaufield Nutbeem (Rhys Ifans) and the ever reasonable local news editor Billy Pretty (Gordon Pinsent) who humorously teaches Quoyle his very first reporting lesson: how to think in headlines. This is a fun crew all around and the best dialogue of the film comes wittily out of them.
But, his self-esteem could not reach fruition without the added element of a budding romance. For that there is Julianne Moore’s wary widow, Wavey Prowse. She’s a thoughtful friend who’w willing to teach Quoyle the ways of Newfoundlanders, from how to eat seal flipper pie to learning to cope with his ancestral demons, of which, we discover, there are many.
Lotta says: I really liked the feel of the film, its setting and the characters and some wonderfully imaginative visuals like the opening sequence depicting Quoyle’s near drowning as his father watches where he morphs from child to adult, still drowning in the failures of his life. It’s beautifully done and it’s the theme that follows him throughout the film. My one criticism is to the storyline which has Quoyle slipping too easily into this very foreign existence of Newfoundland. He has to cope with a nonstop wintery environment, new people at work and an entirely new job function, new people at his daughter’s school/day care, new people at the restaurant where he eats – all of whom seem to accept him as some long-lost son. More complications amid characters would lend to credibility.
Spacey’s performance is well-rounded, giving us a slowly evolving Quoyle, as it should be. The criticism against him makes me think others have forgotten that Spacey is an actor and what he does is called acting or behaving. Isn’t there enough typecasting in the industry? Judi Dench is good; she always is, although her character could have been more fleshed out. A sidenote: Daughter Bunny was played by triplets Alyssa, Kaitlyn and Lauren Gainer.