Lasse Hollstrom’s The Shipping News is two thirds of a great movie, but unfortunately has a first act which introduces it’s main character in the most heavy handed of ways, and sort of shoots itself in the foot. It helps that the rest of the film is lovely, but it takes some time to get the sour taste out of your mouth. Kevin Spacey is Quoyle, a meek milquetoast dude who has spent his entire life moping and whining, constantly being walked all over and never standing up for himself, starting right from his childhood relationship with his father (Jim ‘sippy poo’ Lahey, the glorious bastard). He’s so pathetic and such a loser that one wonders where can you go from here, and why did Spacey choose to start his arc at such a sad extreme, instead of livening it up a bit? By chance (and I mean chance) he marries Petal ( half mad Cate Blanchett), a wayward woman-child with barely an ounce of sanity or sensibility in her, and has a daughter with her. She runs off to a tragic self inflicted end, and he is left to raise the girl. Suddenly he receives news that a relative has passed in a small coastal fishing village his ancestral home of Newfoundland, so he packs it in and the two of them head on out there to begin anew. From there it’s an awakening for him, and bit by bit his character becomes believable and tolerable, two traits that were simply not there up until this point. He meets a long lost relative (a salty Judi Dench), befriends a local gal (Julianne Moore), starts working for the gruff local newspaper magnate (Scott Glenn, wonderful) and essentially finds a self within him that he never had before, a life to fill the pointless void he’s lived in for his whole existence so far. The town is charming, the atmosphere authentic and the acting terrific, including Rhys Ifans and the late great Pete Postlethwaite. I just wish the first act could have measured up to the rest and not stuck out like such a misplaced and noticeable sore thumb. Hallstrom has an ear for intimate, rural set family drama (check out An Unfinished Life with Robert Redford fpr his best work), and for the most part, this one delivers the goods.