Jack Goes Boating

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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Jack Goes Boating

Directed by: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Ortiz, Amy Ryan, Daphne Rubin-Vega
Screenplay by: Bob Glaudini, based on the play by Bob Glaudini
MPAA rating: Rated R
Run Time: 89 minutes

One of the highest compliments that can be given to the film Jack Goes Boating is that the film equals and at times, exceeds the outstanding stage production on which it is based.

Jack Goes Boating began life in the off-Broadway LAByrinth Theatre Company where multi-talented Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) and versatile John Ortiz (Pride and Glory) were co-directors. With Daphne Rubin-Vega (Broadway’s Rent), the three starred in the 2007 award-winning stage production, written by Bob Glaudini (off-Broadway’s A View From 151 Street).

The film continues to benefit from the creative juices of the team. Hoffman’s direction and acting are outstanding. Glaudini’s first-rate screenplay has subtle modifications to open up the play for film. Ortiz and Rubin Vega recreate their roles skillfully. Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone, The Wire) as Connie, is a fine addition to the cast.

Hoffman plays Jack, a floundering limo driver who lives a lonely life in his Uncle’s New York City basement. Jack’s friendship with fellow limo driver Clyde (Ortiz), his love of reggae (don’t miss his preposterous dreadlocks) and an occasional toke seem to be Jack’s only pleasures. He dreams of joining New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, but hasn’t gotten his act together.

Then Jack is persuaded by Clyde and his wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) to meet Connie (Amy Ryan), who works with Lucy in a Brooklyn funeral home selling seminars. Between Connie and Jack, it’s difficult to say who has the poorer social skills.

But with fits and starts – some awkward, some tender – the two slowly and gently find their way together. Jack learns to cook so he can make dinner for Connie: He learns to swim so he can fulfill Connie’s wish to go boating in Central Park. Connie struggles to overcome her timidity and fear of men. The two find the courage and desire to form a relationship and, by doing so, develop the confidence they need to improve their lives.

Juxtaposed to Jack and Connie, friends Clyde and Lucy struggle with their marriage. Undercurrents of betrayal and bitterness surface. The couple is stuck in their working class life and their tiny apartment, while Lucy longs for escape.

Whereas Jack and Connie’s relationship is reminiscent of Paddy Chayefsky’s award-winning 1950s TV play and then screenplay, Marty, Clyde and Lucy’s marriage has uncomfortable twinges of the play and film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Hoffman eased into this, his first effort as a film director, because of his experience with the stage version. In fact, Hoffman commented that he rehearsed the film as one would a stage play. His experience in stage directing is evident here, to the point that the film is a bit “stagey.”

Jack’s long pauses, vapid facial expression and nervous cough are overdone. Films benefit from quick cuts and long shots, and more of them might have improved Jack Goes Boating. Yet the film makes wonderful use of its New York location by combining scenes of glamorous Manhattan with less familiar others that evoke the loneliness only New Yorkers know.

I hope that reviewers refrain from using the word “quirky” in relation to this film. It isn’t quirky; it is a touching portrayal of four ordinary people yearning for love. With Hoffman’s directorial ability to motivate the accomplished cast and his own well-crafted performance, Jack Goes Boating is a nuanced, emotional, yet optimistic film.

Emily S. Mendel


(c)Emily S. Mendel 2010   All Rights Reserved

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