Shipping News (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Scientists argue about what distinguishes humans from the other mammals. Is it our language system? Our ability to transmit complex knowledge from generation to generation?

I submit it is our tendency to romanticize the past, specifically our own youth.

Nothing is ever as good as in our youth, is it? The soft drinks were sweeter then, the athletes greater, the grass greener, the birds sang a sweeter tune, "folks was jest plain more decent". Since the time of Socrates, there is a written record of some old fart in each generation bemoaning the decline of civilization from the time when he was young.

When Michelangelo, then still in his twenties, unveiled "David", you can bet that some old guys looked at it and said "this Renaissance thing sucks. Those Dark Ages - those were the days. These kids today can't sculpt for shit. Not like those sculptors in our day. And those indulgences were such a bargain in those days. I could buy my entire family into heaven, even my slutty wife, for five Florins. And we were manly then, not like the kids today with this wimpy Humanism"

Today people rhapsodize any possible element of their youth - Scooby Doo, the Beverly Hillbillies, even the music of the post-Woodstock decade. I suppose that era was the worst period in the history of music, with the notable and obvious exception of Wagner's lifetime. Just about all the worst music ever written was composed then. Name the worst song you've ever heard - Me and You and a Dog Named Boo, Seasons in the Sun, Watchin' Scotty Grow, Stayin' Alive, You're Havin' My Baby, You Light Up My Life, Afternoon Delight, A Horse With No Name, I Write the Songs (that Make the Whole World Sing), Yummy Yummy Yummy, Rhinestone Cowboy, Sometimes when We Touch, MacArthur Park, Wildfire, Desperado - it was probably written in that time, a decade dominated by Manilow and the BeeGee's.

But there are people who are nostalgic for that time.


Cate Blanchett was seen from the rear after she undressed to thong underwear.

If you are nostalgic for the sweet, kooky innocence of an earlier day in filmmaking, Miramax is your production company, and Lasse Hallstrom is your director. Together they have produced such syrupy hits as The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, and The Shipping News. Like the other two, Shipping News is filled with quaint and colorful characters. In fact, that's the biggest problem with all of these films - they are filled with colorful literary and cinematic characters instead of human beings. They don't live in our world, but in the world according to Garp. I have never met anyone remotely resembling the characters in any of these films, and they experience as many tragedies every summer as the entire nation of Bulgaria has experienced in its existence.

In the first five minutes or so, Kevin Spacey marries a slut. She brings her dates home to their marriage bed. She sells their daughter into white slavery to finance good times with her biker pals. She walks out because Spacey is too boring. She kills herself with reckless driving. During these experiences, Spacey flashes back to how his own father abused him. And that was just the calm before the storm. Later in the movie, Spacey starts to dig into his family history, including his own father, and finds that his ancestors would have considered Vlad the Impaler to be a soft-hearted wimp. And then his house falls into the sea, his little boat overturns in the open sea, decapitated bodies appear ...

DVD info from Amazon.

Commentary by director Lasse Halstrom
Dive Beneath The Surface
Stills Gallery
Behind The Scenes
Portrait Gallery
Scenery Gallery
Widescreen anamorphic format

Jeez, you think you have troubles in your life, Spacey? I had a flat tire once on the way back from 7-Eleven.

Oh, yeah - one more thing. Remember the Prime Directive. There can be no truly great movie which contains a resurrection. In this film, as befits a literary/cinematic wake, the dead man does indeed awaken, and the children in attendance get a new understanding or misunderstanding of the word "wake", just as Garp's kids developed a special relationship with the "undertoad". Are Annie Proulx and John Irving the same person with two pseudonyms? 

If so, they don't always have to keep walking past those open windows.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, 2.5/5, Apollo 78/100

  • General UK consensus: two and a half stars.  Daily Mail 8/10, Daily Telegraph 2/10, The Guardian 2/10, The Observer 5/10, The Times 5/10, Evening Standard 6/10, The Sun 7/10, The Express 6/10, The Mirror 6/10, BBC 3/5

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.2/10, Apollo voters 78/100, Guardian voters have a completely different take on it - 4.7/10
  • with their dollars: a major loser. A pricey $35 million budget, a disappointing $11 million gross.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Very well photographed and acted. A literary kind of bittersweet movie tone-poem. Too artificial for my taste, but many people liked it. If you like the movies made from John Irving books (Garp, Cider House Rules, Hotel New Hampshire), you will like this as well.

Return to the Movie House home page