Jack Goes Boating
Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Thomas McCarthy. (2010, R, 89 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 1, 2010
Oscar-winning actor Hoffman's directorial debut is adapted from a play by Robert Glaudini, who also penned the screenplay. Despite a quartet of interesting, if overly familiar, New York characters, Hoffman's first outing behind the lens is a minor work in the career of a major actor. Partly, that's due to Hoffman's overfamiliarity as Jack, a nebbishy but sweet middle-aged man with minimal social skills, a penchant for mumbling (and, inexplicably but winningly, reggae), and few prospects for love in a very chilly cityscape. Jack works as a driver for his uncle's limo service, ferrying the rich and powerful from one gaudy shopping spree to the next. At home, he dreams of things he cannot yet do, such as boat and swim, and makes furtive, hopeful plans for the day when he will find true love, or something like it. His best friend, Clyde (Ortiz), volunteers to be his mentor in such worldy things, and why not? Clyde and Lucy (Rubin-Vega), his longtime girlfriend (or possibly wife – the film is unclear) appear to be a functioning example of what Jack yearns for most of all. When Clyde and Lucy set Jack up with Lucy's equally shy co-worker Connie (Ryan), and Jack embarks on learning how to cook a meal to wow this newfound romantic interest, the stage is set (somewhat literally) for far more than a pleasant evening repast. There's no mistaking the lovelorn heart at the center of Glaudini's script, and Hoffman, accompanied by his usual assortment of pauses and tics and general air of dishevelment, is fine as Jack, but you can't help holding out for something more. And there is more, as the third act introduces into this tight-knit, anxious quartet not a Chekovian firearm but – trés New York – alcohol, a hookah, and, just to keep things frazzled, a dime bag of cocaine. Perhaps not the best party favors for such an auspicious dinner party, but it allows the actors to blow their lids prior to the picture's touching denouement. All four leads turn in top-notch performances, and there are moments of genuine grace throughout the story; Clyde's almost paternal way with the hesitantly eager Jack as he learns to swim at the local YMCA is a model of how to make a quotidian event such as swimming lessons seem rife with joy and laden with the possibility of future growth. Ultimately, though, Jack Goes Boating is too much of a banal thing. Jack's a good guy, and you root for him all the way to the end, but, wistfully, that doesn't make him an any more interesting everyday Joe than he is.