Jack Goes Boating

Jack Goes Boating


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

There can rarely have been a first-time director bringing more goodwill with them to a movie than Philip Seymour Hoffman. He is one of the best actors of his generation, who has reached the top of the tree despite the fact that he is not what you would call 'typically Hollywood' in terms of looks or deportment. Fortunately, this is the sort of accolade that this lacklustre venture into the director's chair is unlikely to tarnish, which is just as well because, sadly, it isn't long into the runtime of Jack Goes Boating that the sinking feeling starts.

If there is one thing trickier than first-time directing, it is directing yourself well in a movie. It's a difficult business pulling off even one role on a set and most actors, sensibly, opt to relegate themselves to supporting roles when they are also wielding the camera (see Drew Barrymore's sterling minor part in Whip It) and although Hoffman could be considered brave for taking on the central role here, he really bites off more than he can chew.

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Hoffman is Jack, a shambling hulk of a limo driver who appears to have just two friends - fellow driver Clyde (John Ortiz) and his wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Attempting to widen his social circle for him, they set him up on a date with Lucy's work colleague Connie (Amy Ryan) and despite the fact that she, quite frankly, makes weird look pedestrian, romance begins to blossom. At the same time as trust begins to build between Connie and Jack, it starts to break down between Clyde and Lucy, who are firmly in the downswing of their relationship.

It all sounds rather stagey because it is. This is Bob Glaudini's adaptation of his own off-Broadway play, which also starred Hoffman, Ortiz and Rubin-Vega and despite Hoffman's best efforts - some of which actually add to the film's problems - it never manages to spread itself out of the wings. This is the worst sort of New York indie territory - where characters you don't really believe exist in the real world engage in unbelievable dialogue while their lives go nowhere.

Even if you get past the unbelievability of Jack - he seems a pretty normal, if reticent, guy, would he really have such a poor track record of friendship? - Connie remains problematic. Where on stage you might be prepared to go with her quirkiness, on screen, despite some good acting from Ryan, she feels like a caricature. It is as though Glaudini expects character tics to substitute for plot development. Why actually have your ensemble do something, if you can just throw in another oddity? Jack can't swim... or cook, Connie can't have sex!

Because there is no plot to speak of, save for the sprouting and dying of love, Hoffman tries some directorial tactics to keep up the interest, in particular, he has Jack 'imagine' that he can cook and swim. In the hands one of Hoffman's erstwhile collaborators, such as Charlie Kaufman, this might have led to some vivid magic realism, but here it feels exactly like what it is - an inexperienced attempt to inject some life into a script that's too talky for its own good.

The bickering between Clyde and Lucy is also neverending, meaning that attempts to build an 'emotional climax' are thwarted by the fact you can see it coming from a mile off and you only wish it would get here sooner.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the acting. Hoffman elicits good performances all round and, despite their characters' unbelievability, the scenes between him and Ryan have a gentle appeal. Ultimately, however, this boat is much too bloated to stay afloat.

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2010
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Jack Goes Boating packshot
Love and friendship in the life of a limo driver and his pals.
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Director: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Writer: Bob Glaudini

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega

Year: 2010

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: US

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