"The Shipping News" is a wonderfully entertaining, strangely charming movie which delivers not only what you expect from a Lasse Hallstr├Âm movie but also from a cast of fine actors lead by Kevin Spacey. But there is something about it which doesn't quite work and that is I am sure that in adapting Annie Proulx's novel huge chunks have been discarded to make it run to a reasonable length. As such it almost feels like you need to have read the novel first to fill in the gaps and flesh out the characters yet I am sure for those who have read Proulx's novel will find that what has been left out has spoilt a good story. In fairness "The Shipping News" is by no means alone when it comes to having this problem and what is delivered is very good it just feels like a much bigger movie crammed into just short of two hours.
After a tragedy, Quoyle (Kevin Spacey - Pay It Forward) and his daughter Bunny find themselves heading for Newfoundland with his Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) as that is where their family heralded from. In a new place, vastly different to anywhere he has ever lived Quoyle fids himself working as a reporter for "The Gammy Bird", the local newspaper, and it leads to a massive change in his life having always felt like a fuck up. And this change also leads him to meeting Wavey (Julianne Moore - Evolution) who like many inhabitants of the local area seems to have a secret.
One of the things about "The Shipping News" is that it ends up feeling like a movie of two halves with the first half being all about Quoyle returning to his roots in Newfoundland and growing from being a push over to a man of confidence. And it is a pleasant little journey through Quoyle's life, establishing that from childhood he was never encouraged and when as a grown man he fell in love with Petal she put him down. And so it continues till something happens inside Quoyle and slowly we watch him evolve into this confident man not afraid to speak up for himself and embrace life. It probably doesn't evolve slowly enough because there are times where Quoyle's growth from being a push over is not a believable one but it still works.
But then you get the second half which is where we discover secrets, in fact basically every character we meet has a secret. So we learn about Agnis's disturbing past whilst also learning about Wavey's troubled marriage; and so it goes on as every other series of scenes seems to reveal a new revelation about someone. But this is where things get choppy because it becomes disjointed as one secret follows another and you get a sense that huge chunks of character examination has been left out as the focus of the movie was on Quoyle's evolution. And as such you end up wanting to read Proulx's novel partly because what we have seen has entertained but also to flesh out all these secrets.
Despite the issue with "The Shipping News" feeling a bit choppy director Lasse Hallstr├Âm has delivered exactly what he does so well. There is a laid back rhythm to things as we meet the various quirky characters who enter Quoyle's life bringing with them laughs but also emotion. They are characters we can warm to, smile at and enjoy because of their individual peculiarities. And whilst some of the character relationships which form seem a little obvious there is this quaintness to how they grow be it romantically between Quoyle and Wavey or the fatherly friendship between Quoyle and Billy Pretty. Place these amusing characters against some stunning landscapes and you have a movie which delights your eyes and your heart.
As such there is not a bum performances in the movie and when you have a cast which features Julianne Moore, Gordon Pinsent, Judi Dench, Scott Glenn, Rhys Ifans, Pete Postlethwaite and Cate Blanchett you expect nothing less than brilliant. But whilst each of these fine actors deliver brilliant characters the star of "The Shipping News" is Kevin Spacey delivering this wonderful evolution. He takes us on this journey of a man who goes from being weak, timid and a push over to one who you could say becomes a man. And we can enjoy this transformation as we understand the character, one who never received praise yet one moment of praise provides the catalyst for him to grow.
What this all boils down to is that "The Shipping News" is a typically charming, touching and quirky movie from director Lasse Hallstr├Âm. The only trouble is that it feels like in adapting Annie Proulx's novel huge chunks have been left out and it makes the second half feel a little clunky.