Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) is a huge, almost-silent lump of a man who married the first woman who spoke to him, a selfish good-time girl named Petal (Cate Blanchett). She ignores him and their daughter, Bunny. She spends most of her time out drinking, and when she comes home she brings men back with her. But Bunny and Quoyle love her, and keep hoping that she will love them back.
Petal is killed in a car accident, and Quoyle goes to Newfoundland to stay with his aunt Agniss (Judi Dench). In that cold, desolate place, he learns enough about his past and himself to begin to heal.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Annie Proulx presented a real challenge to filmmakers. Its dense descriptions of crafts and weather do not translate to the screen. The real action in the story goes on inside the undemonstrative Quoyle, and only an actor of extraordinary range and power could communicate that to a movie audience.
Screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs (nominated for an Oscar for last year’s “Chocolat”) and director Lasse Halleström (“Chocolat” and “The Cider House Rules”) have done a masterful job of adapting the story, with cinematic equivalents for some of the book’s best prose. Kevin Spacey, one of the most brilliant actors ever to appear in movies, provides Quoyle with emotional eloquence, even when he does not speak. Every performance is jewel-like, including Judi Dench as Agniss, Cate Blanchett as Petal, Julianne Moore as Wavey (Proulx is a little cutesy with names), Bunny’s teacher who befriends Quoyle, Scott Glenn as Quoyle’s boss, and, incredibly, triplets who together play the part of Bunny.
Parents should know that the movie has some mature material, including references to homosexuality, adultery, rape, and incest. Petal is selfish. cruel, and promiscuous. There are images of dead bodies, one separated from the head. Characters drink and smoke. When some characters get drunk, they destroy property and one embarrasses himself by behaving badly to someone he cares about.
Families who see this movie should talk about why some families seem to be trapped by their history. Why was kindness so hard to come by in Quoyle’s family? Why did Tert become so angry at Quoyle? Who in the movie finds it hard to talk about feelings? Why? What made Quoyle begin to think that he could change things for himself and Bunny? How did the lesson about headlines make Quoyle think differently? What would be your headline today? Quoyle learns that every boat has a story. Is that true about cars? Houses? Families? Anything else? What does water symbolize in the movie? The weather? Where is the beating heart at the center of your story?