Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directorial debut with this “Marty”-like tale in which he plays a limo driver who finds love with Amy Ryan.
An off-Broadway hit, Bob Glaudini’s “Jack Goes Boating” works better as a play than as a full-length film.
In adapting the slice-of-working-class life from stage to screen, Philip Seymour Hoffman, in an assured directorial debut, keeps the play’s cast (himself along with veteran stage actors Daphne Rubin-Vega and John Ortiz) intact. But he loses something in the translation. The film still breathes like a play. However, adding Oscar-nominee Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”) as Hoffman’s shy love interest, Connie, is a major plus. Her nuanced performance as a woman seemingly terrified by life, just oozes genuine emotion. A tremendous character actor who has made every film she’s been in better, Ryan lends even more gravitas to an already-loaded bunch.
“Jack Goes Boating” doesn’t have much plot. It is more a straight-up character study told through conversations, daydreams and gestures. Call me crazy, but I like a little back story, especially with a character like Hoffman’s Jack. Frustratingly, we’re never made privy to why Jack is such a socially awkward wreck who finds solace in reggae. How’d he become so broken? How’d he end up living in tiny space with just a hot plate instead of a stove? Why does he only have two friends? Those are questions left unanswered that might offer some much-needed perspective to a film that can be as grim as it is tender.
That dichotomy is achieved through the relationships of the two couples. Jack and Connie are hopeful, just starting their run together. Jack’s best friends, Clyde (Ortiz) and Lucy (Rubin-Vega) are hardened veterans of the wear and tear of marriage.
Most of the film takes place in their Brooklyn apartment after Lucy decides to set up Jack, a limo driver, with her funeral home co-worker, Connie. Lucky for Jack – and for moviegoers – he’s played pitch-perfectly by a heavy-breathing Hoffman (“Doubt”), an actor who is a force of nature in every role. His presence alone warrants attention. It’s not surprising that the film’s most affecting moments are between Hoffman and Ryan, especially a love scene that is as cringe-inducing as it is compelling.
On the flip side, Ortiz (“American Gangster”) and Rubin-Vega (Broadway’s “Rent”), who appeared with Hoffman in “Flawless,” are on melodramatic overload. I lost patience for their betrayals and crumbling marriage. Their histrionics unfavorably reminded me of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Revolutionary Road.” You know what is in store for them and you just wish it would come quicker. However, Ortiz is great as Jack’s pseudo life coach. The scenes between them in a pool are pretty dynamic, as Jack learns to swim – literally and metaphorically – under Clyde’s tutelage.
Inspired by Connie, Jack takes cooking lessons, applies for a job at the transit authority (that’s a step up from limo driver), and learns to swim so he can take her on a springtime boat ride.
The metaphorical title hints at unavoidable uplift in the end, but, let’s just say the waters can be rough.
Contact Dana Barbuto at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JACK GOES BOATING (R for for language, drug use and some sexual content.) Cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega. Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. 2 stars out of 4.