Friday, October 1, 2010
Movie review: Jack Goes Boating
Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directorial debut with a supremely strange and sad film -- any takers?
Jack Goes Boating is not your typical movie. In fact, one might hazard a guess that it never would've made it to the screen had it not been for star/director Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also starred in the play upon which the film was based. Jack Goes Boating is a theatre experience through and through, and it might have been better served staying as such.
The story of the film is ostensibly a romantic dramedy. Jack (Hoffman) is a limo driver in New York City whose live appears to be more than a little down in the dumps. He's overweight, his hair is unwashed and natty, and his social interactions lack, shall we say, grace. His co-worker, Clyde (John Ortiz, a Fred Armisen look-alike) and Clyde's wife, Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) conspire to set Jack up on a date with Connie (Amy Ryan), one of Lucy's co-workers.
Their initial meeting is awkward and leaves a lot to be desired, and yet they form a sort of connection via a thrown-in comment about the possibility of going boating in the summer (since this first date is taking place in winter). Based on the vague idea of a date six months in the future and another ill-conceived promise to cook Connie dinner, Jack sets out to better himself by taking swimming lessons from Clyde and cooking lessons from the curiously-nicknamed Cannoli (Salvatore Inzerillo), whose relationship with Clyde and Lucy is interesting, to say the least.
Thus sets into motion one of the most supremely strange and sad stories I have seen in quite some time. Jack Goes Boating, even at 89 minutes, feels long, slow, ponderous, and melancholic. The film covers the better part of a year, yet it's often hard to tell how much time has passed except through subtle visual clues. Most conversations are stilted, with "exchanges" often consisting of one or two-word statements or exclamations that do little more than repeat a word or words that the other person had just said. The film is mostly quiet, but occasionally explodes with a fury that's almost shocking.
Even though the story and dialog leave something to be desired, it's hard to find fault with any of the actors. Hoffman, Ortiz, and Rubin-Vega all reprise their roles from the stage version, and their interactions bear out this familiarity. Even if the result is not as compelling as they may want it to be, there's no doubting their commitment to and skill in executing their scenes. Although she's the lone newcomer, Ryan is equal to her co-stars, which should come as no surprise from a former Oscar nominee.
While it's easy to understand why Hoffman chose this as his directorial debut, he doesn't appear to quite have the skills yet to pull off a play-turned-film. Also, playwright Robert Glaudini wrote the film's script, so there's a possibility that Hoffman felt a responsibility to keep the movie as close to Glaudini's vision as he could, compromising its effectiveness. Elements that play well on stage don't necessarily translate to the big screen, especially for a script that's as subtle as this one.
The best that can be said for Jack Goes Boating is that it is an acquired taste. There could certainly be many people out there who'd enjoy this atypical look at a burgeoning romance. I just wasn't one of them.