Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Movie Review: Jack Goes Boating

Jack Goes Boating ***
Directed by:
Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Written By: Robert Glaudini based on his play.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Jack), Amy Ryan (Connie), John Ortiz (Clyde), Daphne Rubin-Vega( Lucy), Richard Petrocelli (Uncle Frank), Thomas McCarthy (Dr. Bob), Salvatore Inzerillo (Cannoli).

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debute Jack Goes Boating is a low key comedy – so low key in fact that you may not even realize it’s a comedy at all. It humor doesn’t hit you over the head with jokes, but is rather more subtle and sly – often going on beneath the surface, and always springing from the characters themselves – not witty one liners. At times, it does show it stage roots – particularly in the big final scene which I think may have worked better on stage than it does here – but that’s the exception not the rule. Hoffman, as a director, has done a great job of “opening up” the play – shooting in New York City, but in those places in the city that we rarely see in films – and during the winter to boot which gives the city a much different feel covered in snow than most films in New York which take place during the sweltering summer. Hoffman, as director, has made a wonderful little debut film – and perhaps the smartest thing he did was casting Hoffman, the actor, in the lead role of Jack – as I cannot think of another actor who is better suited for the role.

As an actor, there are few currently working as good as Philip Seymour Hoffman. Whether he is Truman Capote raked with guilt, the priest from Doubt who may or may not be a pedophile, the over the top CIA Agent in Charlie Wilson’s War, or the egomaniacal navel gazer in Synecdoche, New York, Hoffman has done a lot of different work in the past few years. But perhaps because my earliest memories of Hoffman as an actor is of him playing, shy, some may say pathetic, losers in films like Boogie Nights or Happiness, I still have a soft spot for him in roles like that. Jack Goes Boating perfectly fits alongside those movies. He plays the title character of Jack, who is in his late 30s and works as a limo driver for his uncle’s company. His only friend is Clyde (John Ortiz), the other driver for the company. Perhaps they became friends solely because Jack barely speaks and Clyde barely shuts up, but their friendship truly has grown into something real between them. Clyde’s wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) even likes Jack herself, despite his shyness. Jack may hide behind his walkman (and yes, it is a walkman and not an ipod), but he really is a decent guy. So when Lucy meets Connie (Amy Ryan) at her office, she thinks the two of them may hit it off. She is also shy and quiet – so much so that her job as a telephone salesperson is in jeopardy. Both Jack and Connie are wounded people – by what the film never explains (although I think in Connie’s case it goes deeper than her being attacked on the subway, where he only see the bloody aftermath). But somehow, they seem to fit together.

Jack Goes Boating is no more complicated than that. It is, simply, about this four people and their lives – their modest dreams and aspirations, the crushing shyness of Jack and Connie offset by the over confidence and noise by Clyde and Lucy who seem to be afraid of silence because of what they may think about when the silence kicks in. The relationship between Jack and Connie is sweet – perfectly underplayed by Hoffman and Ryan, who are actors capable of doing just about anything, but here have settled into seemingly doing nothing. Even during their “sex scene” they are quite able to let themselves go. The relationship between Jack and Clyde is also, in a way, sweet. Clyde sees Jack as a project – he’ll teach him how to swim, how to be with a woman, how to do pretty much everything – I guess because that way he won’t have to deal with his own problems. Clyde and Lucy really do feel like a couple who has been together for years – and stay together simply because its easier than the alternative.

Jack Goes Boating is not an overly ambitious film, nor is it all that original. Yet in the hands of these actors – three of them having played these roles in the off Broadway production (Amy Ryan is the newcomer) – and in the hands of Hoffman as director, who knows the material so well, it feels real. We don’t so much notice the clich├ęs until it is over. It shows that Hoffman has a career of a director if he wants one – as long as he keeps acting, I don’t mind.

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