JACK GOES BOATING – The DVD Review
Review by Sam Moffitt
Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of the best actors working today. He is part of a group of actors who are so good, make such good choices in projects and are so dependable you want to see everything they are involved in.
Within that group I would include, in no particular order, William H Macy, Catherine Keener, Steve Carell, Jessica Chastain, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Taylor and Steve Buscemi. You probably have your own favorites and can add a dozen more names to that list.
Mr. Hoffman seems to specialize in likeable but flawed characters, people who are in pain, emotional, psychological or even physical pain. consider Love Liza for instance. But he can also play egotistical control freaks. I don’t know if I could ever consider him a “movie star”, I think of him, and you probably do to, as a top notch actor, more concerned with creating a memorable and interesting character than being famous or going on talk shows to plug his latest project. (Although he may have done that, since I don’t watch television I wouldn’t know.)
Hoffman has an odd way of seeming to be someone you should know, no matter what character he’s playing. Someone you knew in high school or worked with years ago on a job, there is an absolute reality about everything he does that is uncanny, a real pro in the craft of acting.
After giving excellent performances in movies as varied as Boogie Nights, Talented Mr. Ripley, Owning Mahoney, Synecdoche New York, The Savages, the incredible Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, and a whole lot more Mr. Hoffman got the chance to direct this small, focused and intense look at two shy, introverted people tentatively starting a relationship, fixed up by a another couple whose relationship is headed for the rocks.
Hoffman is the Jack of the title, a limo driver in New York City, his best friend is Clyde, played by John Ortiz, married to Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) who works with Connie (Amy Ryan) in a call center for a funeral home.
Jack doesn’t have much going on in his life. As Lucy points out he has his job and Clyde and Lucy for friends and that’s about it. Connie doesn’t have much going on either, in fact Lucy thinks she might have to let Connie go from the job due to not selling enough funeral plans. Clyde and Lucy both seem to think they should fix Jack and Connie up with each other or neither of them will ever get hooked up with anybody.
Jack and Connie are both painfully shy and awkward but they seem to hit if off on their first meeting. Jack promises he will cook for Connie, even though he knows nothing about cooking and Connie would like to go boating on the lake in Central Park, which Jack also promises to do, even though he can’t swim and is terrified of going out in a boat.
Ever helpful Clyde teaches Jack how to swim in a city pool in uptown Manhattan and also introduces him to a chef nicknamed The Cannoli who teaches him how to make an entire dinner of pork chops and au gratin potatoes. Clyde also lets Jack know that The Cannoli and his wife Lucy had “a thing” for a while and to expect that in any relationship there will be some betrayal, but he is over it now and doesn’t let it bother him, (he says). Jack gets more than a bit worried since he has never been in a relationship and has no idea that some people can stay true to their partner.
When some actors direct a picture it can be an amazing project that ends up being a classic. Think of Charles Laughton and Night of the Hunter or Peter Lorre and Der Verlorene. And some actors can end up proving they should never be let behind the camera, consider Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? directed by Anthony Newley, or Yin and Yang of Mr. Go written and directed by Burgess Meredith, if you can stand to watch them!
What we get from Philip Seymour Hoffman with Jack Goes Boating is a heartbreaking look at two people very tentatively and awkwardly finding each other and some happiness in the act of getting together and another couple just as tragically coming apart.
Some actors, when they direct themselves, turn the film into a vanity project, not Hoffman. He has himself photographed in the most unflattering light, shows off his pasty, pudgy self in the pool scenes, and best of all, during the climactic dinner party has the worst haircut I have ever seen on a human head! Jack also appears to have a touch of OCD or may even be a bit autistic. While learning the preparations and recipe for his dinner party he practices the steps over and over again, and then does them again. He cooks the dinner three times just for himself and Clyde and Lucy. Clyde even says he is tired of the dinner before Connie ever comes over.
And, as you know it will, the dinner turns into a disaster. I don’t want to give too much away but you can see the disaster coming, it’s the blowups afterwards that are tough to watch. Jack throws a monumental tantrum, Clyde and Lucy end up getting into the kind of argument you really don’t want to see. You start wondering why Connie doesn’t just walk out, until you realize she already has a lot invested in Jack and is willing to stick it out. This is acting that is so true and so real it makes you uncomfortable.
Based on a stage play Jack Goes Boating has that feel, at times, but is also full of great cinematic moments that couldn’t be done on stage. I’m thinking of some of the dissolves between the pool and the lake in Central Park.
And like any great movie set in New York City the Big Apple becomes a character in it’s own right. How nice to see a New York set movie where the characters live in realistic looking apartments. How many New York movies have you seen where the characters have penthouse apartments they could never afford in the real world? In Jack Goes Boating all the characters have cramped, tiny little rooms to try and live in.
There is also some oddball things that could only happen in a New York story. Connie is beaten up on the subway going to work and we get almost no details about it, other than seeing the bloody aftermath at her workplace, where she manages to close an account instead of going to the hospital. The police are never mentioned and we are given no information about the incident, did bystanders on the subway do nothing when the attack happened? Did something trigger the assault? You expect the incident to derail Jack and Connie getting hooked up since Connie actually spends some time in the hospital, but no, it actually seems to make her stronger and more committed to getting together with Jack than she was before the attack
In fact Connie ends up being the most interesting character in the film, I have known women who would have walked out after witnessing Jack’s tantrum, no question. No, she has her own agenda and follows it through to the conclusion she wants to see.
In the making of documentary we hear that the production company tried to find areas of the city that have not been on film before. The dvd has two documentaries, one on New York as a setting and one on the transition from stage to screen. Philip Seymour Hoffman originated the part of Jack on stage by the way. There are also some deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer as well as several other trailers in release from Anchor Bay.
Jack Goes Boating is not an instant classic, there’s really not much story and sometimes what there is seems about to go off on tangents. But it is so well written and acted, and yes, directed you can’t help but get involved and care about these characters.
I sincerely hope Mr. Hoffman gets to direct again, either himself, or if he chooses, to stay behind the camera. Like I said at the beginning, anything he does is worth seeing.