Film Review – Jack Goes Boating
If there’s one thing Jack Goes Boating (2010) does really well, is that it successfully shows love and relationships on the opposite ends of the spectrum. We see the awkward yet sweet interactions of a budding romance, while at the same time witnessing the effects of years of lies and betrayal bubbling to the surface. The film is not concerned with everything that happens in between. Adapted by Robert Glaudini from his own play, the film is a first time directorial effort by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Already an accomplished actor, Hoffman shows that he can also work behind the camera with a keen visual eye. Is there anything this man can’t do?
One thing’s for sure: Hoffman knows how to play men who look and feel disheveled. We see it in Synecdoche, New York (2008), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), and Boogie Nights (1997). His characters always seem to want something, but are too unsure of themselves to fully articulate what those things are. They always seem embarrassed, too uncomfortable in their own skins. They always seem to be in need of a shave, or a new set of clothes. He always seems to be breathing too hard. But we know from interviews and public appearances that he is nothing like that. Perhaps that’s why he took the role here, it seems tailor-made for an actor of his skill.
Hoffman plays Jack, a 40ish limo driver working in New York City. Jack is a shy and awkward person, but also interestingly eccentric. He loves to listen to reggae music, and perhaps because of that we notice that his hair is made up in a half-hearted attempt to be braided. Why does he do this? My guess is that it involves more than him trying to feel groovy, it appears that he is looking for some sort of inspiration to do something. That inspiration comes in the form of Connie (Amy Ryan), introduced to him by his friends Clyde (John Ortiz) and Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega).
Connie is almost exactly like Jack, they are two peas from the same pod. Connie is very shy and cautious, when she talks it seems as if she is always apologizing. She fears intimacy with another person, and when she is matched with Jack, we see a couple that seem to be constantly circling each other. But as they grow close, Connie inspires Jack to do things he never thought he would have the courage to do: he learns how to swim to take Connie boating in the summer, he makes an attempt to get a job as an MTA, and he gets lessons from a chef to cook Connie a special dinner. Jack wants everything he does for her to be perfect, and we see him visualize how things work out in his head, which, in the movies, very rarely ever turn out that way.
Flip the coin to the other side, and the film is also about the relationship between Clyde and Lucy. Clyde is a good man, he is Jacks’ coworker, offers him advice, teaches him how to swim, and offers his home as a place for Jack to have his dinner with Connie. Lucy is also a good woman, she works with Connie at a funeral home, feels that she and Jack would make a good couple, and helps in introducing the two of them. However, these two good people do not make a good marriage. They have a history of doing bad things to each other, and although they say that they have moved on from their mistakes, the blossoming romance between Jack and Connie only go to expose the wounds that they have kept hidden.
Hoffman, Ortiz, and Rubin-Vega all reprise their roles from the stage play, and this is a big asset when seen on screen. They all seem to know their characters inside and out; on their faces we can see the weight of their past and the effects it has on each of them. Ortiz in particular stands out, his character is so likable when interacting with Jack, but within his own marriage appears to be the one who is disheveled. Amy Ryan, Oscar nominee from Gone Baby Gone (2007), makes a u-turn in character. Compare her shy and awkward acting here to the character she plays in that other film, and you will see an actress of almost unlimited range. Hoffman captures these performances with good camera work. The camera never intrudes; it always sits back and allows the actors to play their parts. Only during the scenes where Jack visualizes his time with Connie does the camera and editing become apparent, making them, technically, the least interesting parts of the film.
This is a good movie made by Hoffman, regardless of it being rather simple and generic. It does have its problems; there are certain moments in the film where characters and events break out in to head-scratchingly awkward situations. Two scenes in particular stand out as if they don’t even belong in the movie, one involving the after effects of a mugging, and the other involving three of the characters singing along to a reggae song. I understand how these scenes are supposed to work within the context of the film, but they are so random and uncoordinated that they do not fit within its tone. The story should have kept to the quiet, minimalist way of presenting itself, but these scenes prevent it from being as good as it could have been.
When going in to see the film, focus more on the interactions between Jack and Connie and its contrast to the relationship between Clyde and Lucy. That’s where the real soul of the film lies, with these four working class people trying to find just a small bit of happiness within the larger confines of the city. I like how the film ends with questions still unanswered. Sometimes things in life don’t always end up the way we expect them to, sometimes things get better, sometimes things get worse. For the characters in the film, it’s not about the bad things that have happened, but the possibility of good things to come.
Final Grade: B