Jack Goes Boating – Out Now on DVD

The bleakly comic Jack Goes Boating marks the directorial debut of indie-fave Philip Seymour Hoffman – best known for an interesting career that mixes smaller intense fare such as Happiness, Magnolia and Synecdoche, New York with blockbusters like Mission Impossible III. Recently seen in the baseball biopic Moneyball, Hoffman is seen here in contemplative mood.
Jack Goes Boating – a movie for which the term ‘bitter-sweet’ could have been invented – follows Hoffman’s Jack, a middle aged loser who feels that life might be passing him by. A limo driver who almost blends into the background of New York City, Jack’s downbeat existence takes a turn for the better when his colleague and friend Clyde (a study in pent up rage from John Ortiz) introduces him to funeral-home worker Connie (Amy Ryan). An awkward romance begins, typified by talk of death and coma stories around the dinner table of their first date. While Jack and Connie learn to love, Clyde and his wife Lucy’s (Daphne Rubin-Vega) marriage is falling apart.
In what is an incredibly slow-paced movie, Seymour Hoffman holds the whole together. His craggy puppy dog face is still a wonderful thing to behold, and can convey an emotion without putting it into words. However, there are some problems with the film – it is adapted from a play and still has a very theatrical look about it. Not necessarily a bad thing, but an audience could have expected slightly sharper dialogue from a film with its origins in theatre. Ryan’s Connie is difficult to sympathize with (even after being attacked on the subway!) and there is little to suggest that she and Jack won’t just continue to stumble through life. An indie-folk soundtrack from the likes of Fleet Foxes, Cat Power and Grizzly Bear heightens the subdued approach (which is only broken towards the end in the film’s best scene).
There are some nice touches in the film; the friends’ stoned hookah enhanced gathering is a treat and Ortiz’s manic intensity as doomed Clyde is captivating. But on the whole you’re left feeling that it’s a personal piece that means far more to the players than it possibly could to a potential audience…

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