Noted bookfucker Robert Nelson Jacobs just throws you headlong
into the tale of the lumpish, lovelorn Quoyle, making it disjointed
and plodding and worst of all, ordinary. Hes in familiar
company, as director Lasse Hallstrom and co-star Dame Judi
Dench were present at the scene of his last crime against
literature (CHOCOLAT). Jacobs, who also wrote the screenplay
for DINOSAUR, clearly represents full expression of the cuteness
After the sudden death of his parents and his two-timing,
utterly un-maternal wife, Petal (Blanchett), Agnis Hamm (Dench)
persuades her nephew Quoyle (Spacey), to move with his daughter
to the ancestral Quoyle home in Killick-Claw, Newfoundland.
The rest of the story is the remaking of this sad sack, a
man whose life has been defined by failure on every front,
into someone who can believe that he deserves the normal happinesses
of life. On a larger level, its about healing, not only
for Quoyle but for his disturbed daughter, Bunny, who has
questions about death; for his aunt, whose spine has been
stiffened by griefs of her own; and for Wavey Prouse (Moore),
the damaged, conveniently widowed mother of a special-needs
Really now, THE SHIPPING NEWS isnt such a bad movie.
What it is though, is such a disappointing movie. Like having
the finest ingredients result in a lumpy, fallen cake; you
can still consume it, but... Part of the problem here, IMHO,
is the difficulty of the material. This concept may be completely
alien to Hollywood, but not every celebrated book is a good
candidate for a film. A lot of the all-around wonderfulness
of Annie Proulxs novel has to do with languagethe
language of her characters, yes, but especially the choppy,
telegraphic style she employed to tell their tales. Howre
you gonna bring that to the screen?
Jacobs assays it by attempting to capture the mood
of the book as his foundation, and building up from there.
THE SHIPPING NEWS he creates takes fewer liberties with its
source material than CHOCOLAT, but still misses the boat,
largely by concentrating far too much on the halting mating
dance. And yet TSN-the-movie cant decide if its
a romance, a twee little regional comedy (hence
Postlethwaite, Glenn, and Ifans in full character
mode), or a creepy rural mystery. In a book, youve got
time to be all things, but in the two hours of a movie you
kind of need to decide. These filmmakers decided wrong. Yeah,
I know Im trying to have it both ways.
In the absence of a beating heart, the filmmakers have adopted
the so-called bleeding-heart liberal solution:
Throw money at the problem. Here money takes the
form of a bevy of Academy Award winners and/or nomineesSpacey,
Dench, Moore, and Blanchettall of whom work hard in
unfortunately misdirected roles. Dame Dench does her workmanlike
best, though by now I can only conclude that the phrase crusty
but benign is tattooed on her ass. But Spacey and Moore
are just too large for their parts; on the page, Quoyle and
Wavey are people who have shrunk from life. Plus, Spacey turns
out not to be a believably kid-friendly actor. Blanchett rather
enjoyably disappears into the role of the slutty Petal, whose
character seems most true-to-the-source.
I say, keep this Hallstrom-Jacobs wrecking crew away from
well-received literature and prestige projects in the future.