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The Shipping News (R)
Official Site
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Producers: Rob Cowan, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Leslie Holleran, Irwin Winkler
Written by: Robert Nelson Jacobs; from the novel by E. Annie Proulx
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench, Scott Glenn, Rhys Ifans, Pete Postlethwaite
Rating: out of 5

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. He’s 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 gene.

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, it’s 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 child.

Really now, THE SHIPPING NEWS isn’t 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 Proulx’s novel has to do with language—the language of her characters, yes, but especially the choppy, telegraphic style she employed to tell their tales. How’re 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 can’t decide if it’s a romance, a twee little “regional comedy” (hence Postlethwaite, Glenn, and Ifans in full “character” mode), or a creepy rural mystery. In a book, you’ve 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 I’m 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 nominees—Spacey, Dench, Moore, and Blanchett—all 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.

—Roxanne Bogucka

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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Itís worth a matinee ticket.

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Check out the video from the library, if you must.

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