Shipping News [2001]

Fans of Lasse Hallström's truffle, Chocolat, may enjoy the director's subsequent novel adaptation, the emotionally charged Shipping News. The opening sequence introduces us to the bumbling Quoyle (Kevin Spacey), an ink setter at the Poughkeepsie News; his hedonistic wife Petal Bear (Cate Blanchett); and their daughter Bunny. But we hardly get to meet the characters, much less connect with them, in the fewer than eight minutes allotted for the scene. Before you know it, Petal is dead in a car wreck, Quoyle's parents have committed suicide, and Quoyle and Bunny are headed off with Quoyle's aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) to start over in a small Newfoundland port town. As the main story ensues--Quoyle's transformation from passive victim to sensitive lover and eloquent columnist--the subplot of his sordid family history and his aunt's search for healing seems contrived and lifeless. While Julianne Moore, as the widow Wavey, gives a solid performance as Quoyle's love interest, Spacey's performance is uneven, never convincingly at sea enough to reward Quoyle's ultimate self-discovery. As with so many films adapted from novels, The Shipping News fails to embark confidently enough upon its own course to keep off the rocks. --Fionn Meade

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