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'Shipping News'

Bland 'Shipping News' wastes its big-name cast

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The singing group TLC scored a hit with a song that goes, "I don't want no scrubs." The movie adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Shipping News" leaves me singing a different tune.

I don't want no shlubs, at least not as the protagonist of nearly two hours of drama fraught with enough symbolism to drown a whale.

For those of you who are Yiddish-deficient, a shlub has the charisma of a bowl of wet shredded wheat and the mental quickness of a Browns fan armed with a beer bottle.

"The Shipping News"

Rating: R for some language, sexuality and disturbing images.

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett.

Director: Lasse Hallstrom.

Critic's call:


Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) definitely qualifies. We first see the character as a child, being thrown into the water by his gruff father, who tells him to swim or sink. Metaphorically, at least, he does neither. He grows into an adult who dozes through his repetitive job as a newspaper inksetter.

Overwhelmed by the sexual advances of a predator named Petal (Cate Blanchett), he becomes father of a girl named Bunny (who is played by three sisters, Alyssa, Kaitlyn and Lauren Gainer) and stands by helplessly as Petal goes on devouring other men.

Ultimately, Quoyle's Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) comes along and takes him and Bunny to the family's ancestral home in Newfoundland -- a place of cold climate, fierce winds and hardy but terse inhabitants.

Quoyle gets a job covering the shipping news for the tiny local newspaper. What he uncovers, however, are the family skeletons and the secrets that haunt the local populace, including a pretty widow named Wavey Prowse (Julianne Moore), almost literally like ghosts.

I haven't read the book and so I can make no comparisons. But the movie, written by Robert Nelson Jacobs and directed by Lasse Hallstrom (they previously collaborated on "Chocolat"), trudges through mushy emotional territory. Quoyle finally gets some gumption by movie's end, but the audience may freeze over while waiting for him. Watching Spacey play a sad sack only makes me long for the smooth operator with a sharp tongue that he portrayed in such films as "L.A. Confidential" and "Glengarry Glen Ross."

For all the starpower surrounding him, the most indelible performances issue from the supporting players comprising the crusty newspaper staff: Pete Postlethwaite, Rhys Ifans, Gordon Pinsent and Scott Glenn.

They provide the everyday flavor of the place, which (despite their taste for seal-flipper pie) proves a lot more palatable than the overcooked gruel that constitutes the Quoyle family history.

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