American Indie cinema’s favourite chunky monkey, Philip Seymour Hoffman, finally makes his directorial debut with his first feature, Jack Goes Boating. Though Fat Bloke Learns To Swim might have been a more accurate title.
American Indie cinema’s favourite chunky monkey, Philip Seymour
Hoffman, finally makes his directorial debut with his first feature, Jack Goes Boating. Though Fat Bloke Learns To Swim might have
been a more accurate title.
Based on Bob Glaudini’s 2007 off-Broadway play for which he won rave
reviews, Hoffman stars again as the titular Jack, a middle-aged pot-smoking
slacker, drifting through life, isolated, his only friends married couple Clyde
(John Ortiz) and Lucy (Daphne Rubin Vega).
They decide it’s time the
introverted, taciturn Jack got himself a girlfriend and set him up with fellow
social inept, the shy Connie (Amy Ryan).
Jack and Connie, somewhat unsurprisingly given their crippling social
inadequacies, hit it off and Jack impulsively offers to cook her a meal and to
take her boating in Central Park in the Summer. The only problem is Jack
can neither cook nor swim.
Enlisting Clyde and Lucy’s
help, Jack decides to radically change his life to become the kind of man he
feels Connie deserves, Clyde teaching him to swim and Lucy’s chef friend
teaching him to cook. But as Jack and Connie’s romance flickers
waveringly to life, their friends’ marriage starts to implode, events coming to
a head during Jack’s make-or-break dinner party.
Shot in a drab, wintry New
York, Jack Goes Boating bumbles along in a good-natured but aimless
fashion, much like Jack himself. It doesn’t really go anywhere but then
it doesn’t really aspire to and neither do its characters. Jack’s
ambition (other than to learn to swim and get a girlfriend) is to quit his job
as a limo driver and get a job with the transit authority. Which is sort
of like aspiring to work for Transport for London. Let’s face it, no-one aspires
to work for Transport for London. You fall into jobs like that, you end
up there, you don’t dream of them.
This isn’t the drag-queen
fantasy New York of Sex and the Sh*tty, this is a film about “ordinary”
people (or at least what middle-class playwrights and filmmakers think of
ordinary people are like) and their meager dreams. At times there’s a
whiff of smug, middle-class, Mike Leigh-esque
condescension about Jack Goes Boating particularly when the
semi-articulate characters wrestle with Glaudini’s dialogue and big themes but
it’s shot through with humanity. The scenes where Clyde teaches the
nervous Jack to swim are wonderful, one friend coaxing the best from another,
and, visually, the scenes where Jack is practicing cooking juxtaposed with
swimming are quite beautiful while the awkward, hesitant interplay between Jack
and Connie feels warm and real.
The performances are uniformly
good with only Daphne Rubin Vega failing to make much of an impact in the
thankless, underwritten role of Lucy; a whiny, unfaithful, Noo Yawk Latin shrew
of the type Rosie Perez built a
career on. Amy Ryan shines as the insecure Connie and Ortiz is likeable
and intense as the cheerfully desperate Clyde. Like his character, Philip
Seymour Hoffman’s performance is unshowy, solid and dependable. His Jack
is a vulnerable mess, a man cautiously embarking on what he hopes will be a new
chapter in his life.
An honest and realistic
portrait of loneliness and middle-aged romance that feels longer than its 89
minutes, Jack Goes Boating is poignant but never quite shakes off its
stage roots or the feeling that what you’re watching is Philip Seymour Hoffman
and his buddies at an actor’s workshop.