Anchor Bay // 2010 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 18th, 2011
"Don't worry, I'm a good swimmer."
Having established himself as one of the most esteemed actors of his generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) finally decided to try his hand behind the camera. His choice of material seems like a good pick for a beginner: Jack Goes Boating, a modest little tale based on a play which Hoffman had starred in previously. While the film doesn't immediately establish Hoffman as a significant director, it does suggest that he's a capable craftsman with some potential.
Jack (Hoffman) is a simple limousine driver living a relatively simple life. He hasn't had much luck in terms of romance recently, and his only real friends are his co-worker Clyde (John Ortiz, Carlito's Way) and Clyde's wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega, Wild Things). Hoping to cheer their pal up, Clyde and Lucy introduce Jack to Connie (Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone), a saleswoman with her own collection of personal conflicts. As Jack and Connie get to know each other and begin to develop a genuine relationship, Clyde and Lucy re-open some old wounds and start to engage in some hurtful behavior.
Jack Goes Boating isn't much bigger than it sounds; it's a four-piece character study spotlighting quiet people living quiet lives. It's been classified as a romantic comedy, which is only true in that the film offers both romance and comedy. The film is too mournful and meditative to be lumped in with something like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, yet surprisingly cheerful given Hoffman's penchant for creating intensely miserable characters.
It's interesting to note the way Hoffman the director treats Hoffman the actor. The performance is another one of Hoffman's deeply miserable creations, as the actor (looking more disheveled, acne-inflicted and in need of a shower than ever) plunges into a pool of despair with gusto. As a director, Hoffman doesn't spare us from any of Jack's embarrassment and misery, but he regards the character with a kind of warm tenderness. Jack is the sort of guy who makes one want to say, "Hey, cheer up, pal. It's gonna be okay." This is partially because Jack seems like someone who really needs cheering up and partially because, in all likelihood, it's gonna be okay.
The romantic scenes between Jack and Connie are my favorite moments in the film, as they offer heartfelt sweetness with faint edges of bad taste. The film's most openly romantic conversation happens as Jack is providing Connie with a sexual favor, while another intimate moment is underscored by Connie's confession that she'd like Jack to pretend he's raping her. These scenes sound like terrible ideas on paper, but Hoffman and Ryan manage to make them work thanks to the persuasiveness of their performances. By the time these things happen, the actors have established who these broken people are and the behavior seems entirely in-character. Thankfully, the emotions present are strong enough that we're able to discern the emotional truth beneath the somewhat unpleasant surface.
Clyde and Lucy are compelling in their own way, if much less pleasant to spend time with. One of the tale's best ideas is to depict their marriage crumbling due to discussions of things which happened long ago. It seems that once upon a time, Clyde and Lucy indulged in some extramarital affairs. They caught each other, forgave each other, recommitted to each other and tried to move on. Years later, Clyde tells Jack about Lucy's former indiscretions, Lucy finds out and tells Jack about Clyde's similar dalliances and the conflict begins.
The whole thing culminates in a very well-staged dinner party sequence. It's noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First of all, a large stretch of the scene features very little dialogue; the sort of sequence that's difficult to work into a film based on a play. Secondly, it's the scene that weaves the two storylines together in fascinatingly awkward fashion, with Jack and Connie hitting a high point in their relationship precisely as Clyde and Lucy are hitting a low point. Hoffman manages to make this come across in a natural, unforced manner (again, it seems so gimmicky on paper).
The hi-def transfer is okay, but the dingy, small-scale nature of Jack Goes Boating makes it a film that doesn't seem to desperately need a Blu-ray release (though of course I'm of the opinion that every film merits a Blu-ray release given its superior picture and sound capabilities). The level of detail is solid; you can see every red blotch on Hoffman's face and every strand of his greasy hair. The audio is solid too, but this is a dialogue-driven track with very little in the way of sound design. The soundtrack is dominated by appealing but slightly predictable bits of minor-key melancholy and dreamy pop. Extras include two brief featurettes ("Jack's New York" and "From the Stage to the Big Screen") and some deleted scenes.
Jack Goes Boating is a slight effort which doesn't leave an enormous impression, but it's a well-crafted little film with sturdy performances and a handful of very fine moments. It's worth a look.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes