Jack Goes Boating Directed by: Philip Seymour Hoffman Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Ortiz, Amy Ryan, Daphne Rubin-Vega Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins Rating: R Release Date: September 24, 2010
PLOT: An awkward limo driver (Hoffman) must learn to swim before he can go boating with a woman (Ryan) he met on a blind date. They are both friends with a couple (Ortiz, Rubin-Vega) whose marriage appears to be stuck on the rocks.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Fans of Hoffman’s moodier work, as they might be more familiar with the dry humor that he has explored in certain films like The Savages.
EXPECTATIONS: Academy Award-winner Hoffman has shown a certain mastery for the on-screen performance. With this being film-director debut, I was curious to see how the versatile actor views the world, and if his own film would echo those made by others previously in the captain's chair.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Jack: Hoffman doesn’t stretch himself too far with this delicate character, who shares a similar awkward nature with previous incarnations. With a slight rasp in his voice, the big teddy bear fights the constant feeling of being petrified, while always trying to find the right words to say in the most uncomfortable of situations. Hoffman makes this character likable when he shows that this odd-ball has a chance at success, especially if he believes in himself. Still, more back story in general for this curious character would have been appreciated. Score: 6
John Ortiz as Clyde: The pain that his character goes through is rough stuff, yet it feels like the movie is cutting some of it short. Ortiz has a tender moment when he almost confronts his problem, in the second act, but this is the only example where he strikes us as anymore than Jack’s likable supportive sidekick. He does his part, working alongside on-screen wife Ruben-Vega, of giving a hammy freakout in the third act that makes that moment leave all the more of a bad taste in one’s mouth. Score: 5
Amy Ryan as Connie: Her peculiar presence is an accurate embodiment of this film's nature. Jack Goes Boating wants to be funny with its odd but believable characters, but instead their tragic traits outweigh those that could be seen as comical. Connie is a character broken and beaten down by men who are less loving than Jack. When she starts to gravitate toward him, it becomes a wonder if its choice, or just elimination. The men in this movie take advantage of her (like Tom McCarthty’s groping doctor) but the movie doesn’t. She’s just sad. Score: 5
Daphne Rubin-Vega as Lucy: Although her character is essential to the square created by the small casting, she is not given the proper amount of exploration needed to get underneath her skin or even near her soul. As the story continues and things fall apart, her bad ways become more comically ridiculous. The difference is that no one is laughing. Score: 3
TALKING: The humor of Jack Goes Boating is dry, but such subtlety comes with a heavily condescending nature. Connie's odd sayings like “we were having sex in hyper-space” are slightly amusing, but the feeling of pity registers more than that of laughter. When the movie is not aiming for comedy, the interactions are natural, especially between Connie and Jack. Score: 7
SIGHTS: Though this is by very simple definition a love story that takes place in New York City, Jack Goes Boating does not use the classically romantic locales of the land. Instead the film treats it as if any street corner or sidewalk had its own specialty. When Hoffman has his small cast corralled in an apartment, the movie can at times feel oddly theatrical. Score: 5
SOUNDS: A handful of montages are supported by charming piano interludes. A Pitchfork-friendly soundtrack that includes groups like Goldfrapp, DeVotchKa and Cat Power takes the emotional weight of the movie’s audible experience and works the film's essence towards hippishly mellow. Jack relies on a reggae tune to provide positive energy in the movie, and it is resorted to in a few moments, but usually without any impact. As Hoffman said in a Q+A, “it’s not a mood piece.” Instead it is a small light that flashes every now and then during a foggy experience. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: Jack does indeed go boating. My heart went pitter-patt during the final montage and last shot. If only the rest of the movie had such power.
ENDING: "Overcome me."
REWATCHABILITY: I would only revisit this movie to double check just how ineffectual the whole experience is. Perhaps with time I might be able to accept the film more. But this isn’t the type of movie you can watch for laughs or immediate emotional value.
An odd drama with peculiar tones, Jack Goes Boating proves that it is difficult for a story to sail smoothly into our hearts when the landscape is so dry. A major part of the film is spent dawdling with the idea of whether it's a tragedy or comedy. But the characters are so real with problems that are so sad, it hardly registers any feeling brighter than mopeyness. A giggle might spurt from one’s mouth, but it’s almost cruel for the audience to laugh at these human beings, that are damaged goods to a tee. There are also too many moments where the film’s intentional drama leaves no effect – this happens especially during the movie’s backfired climax. Jack Goes Boating has juggled its “serious” elements with a humorous touch too much, so that the audience doesn’t know what side to choose, even when things are finally reaching a peak.
Hoffman impresses here more as an actor than a director. Yet even his performance in front of the camera doesn’t stand out as anything particularly adventurous. One can imagine that Jack Goes Boating would be more charming in its play-form, something that the audience is reminded of by numerous sequences that look more theatrical than cinematic. Somewhere in the transition between stage to screen, this story must have lost its way, or lost some of its specialness. It’s damaged goods.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10