Mark Reviews Movies


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega

MPAA Rating: R (for language, drug use and some sexual content)

Running Time: 1:29

Release Date: 9/17/10 (limited); 9/24/10 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 23, 2010

Jack Goes Boating is the story of two friends, two lovers, two married folks, two co-workers, two relative strangers, and two shopping buddies, starring four actors, featuring combined decades of emotional and psychological baggage, and full to the brim with awkwardness. About a third of those relationships endear with a sense of authenticity beneath the surface of graceless social interaction. Three are merely definers of how some of the divisible pairs relate to each other in single moments. One serves as a clunky juxtaposition to another.

The screenplay by Robert Glaudini is based on his stage play, and apart from the extended climax in a Hell's Kitchen apartment, the staging by director Philip Seymour Hoffman—his debut in the job—makes that fact seem unlikely. Hoffman uses the snowy streets of Manhattan to elucidate the promise of something emotionally warmer and a rundown public pool to highlight the sometimes public face of isolation, with swimmers going about their own routine even with another in the way.

Hoffman also stars as Jack, a limo driver who one day wants to work for the city's public transportation. Hs best friend Clyde (John Ortiz) works for the same company and takes night classes for business school. Clyde's wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega, who, along with Hoffman and Ortiz, reprises her role from the stage show) works at a funeral home with Connie (Amy Ryan).

Lucy is trying to romantically pair Jack and Connie, although both are cripplingly shy.  Connie tells the tragicomic story of her father's death, loaded with such irony it makes us laugh until she goes to the privacy of the bathroom to cry. Jack decides to ask her on a date to take a row boat out on the lake in Central Park, which is a great idea except for the fact that it's the dead of winter and Jack doesn't know how to swim. So the date is postponed until the summer. With this kind of foresight and awareness, it actually is a coin toss that anything will happen between the two.

Watching these two—beaten down throughout life by their own inhibitions and those who would take advantage of them—is the simple charm of the movie. Connie freely and repeatedly discusses how the men in her life sexually harass her, and, while it might seem a ploy for attention, there it actually is when her boss cops a feel while complimenting her on her improved work. She's later assaulted on the subway, and Jack, knowing he should do something, can only sit in the waiting room, grasping the stuffed animal he bought her from the hospital gift shop, and delay getting up the nerve to walk to her room.

There is a sense of growth for these two individually (mainly on Jack's end) and together. Jack agrees to swimming lessons from Clyde, an embarrassing yet commendable sight.  Here Jack learns the tool of visualization (after an amusing debate about opening or closing one's eyes while wearing goggles or imagining something in the mind's eye), which makes practicing the motions accessible even while walking over an expressway.

Jack inadvertently agrees to cook Connie dinner and has to hold up his unintentional promise when she says no one has ever done that for her before. This leads into the second of the major relationships in Clyde and Lucy's marriage. As it turns out, the chef, nicknamed the Cannoli (Salvatore Inzerillo), from whom Clyde suggests Jack learn once had an affair with Lucy. Clyde reveals this to Jack suddenly, so Clyde begins to worm his own long-sitting jealousy and insecurity into Jack's mind. Jack begins to question Connie about her potential for fidelity, although she knows where he's coming from with it.

Soon the effects of the affair (hypocritical coming from Clyde, it turns out) and Jack's blossoming romance with Connie start to merge in the script's focus. They clash in an overly convoluted dinner date scene set in Clyde and Lucy's apartment, where Jack's culinary skills are put to the test, Clyde attempts to show he's really, truly over his mistrustful ways (fueled by alcohol), a hookah full of marijuana comes out, paranoia sets in, tempers flare, voices rise, and bonds break.

It's the sort of obvious chamber melodrama the script, with its eccentric characters, works so hard to avoid. When Jack Goes Boating concentrates on Jack and Connie, played with such sincere, uncertain longing by Hoffman and Ryan, the movie is undeniably amiable. Then all the rest enters and starts to sink the whole thing.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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