DIR: Philip Seymour Hoffman • WRI: Robert Glaudini • PRO: Beth O’Neil, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Emily Ziff • DOP: W. Mott Hupfel III • ED: Brian A. Kates • DES: Thérèse DePrez • CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz
An extreme close-up of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s typically hangdog face opens his directorial debut, accompanied by suitably atmospheric music; a combination that promises sublime storytelling and impeccable acting. His character, the titular Jack, is overweight and under-confident, working for his uncle as a limo driver alongside his best friend, Clyde (John Ortiz), and dependent on his headphones as a separation from the outside world. Jack operates below the level of socially inept to the point of seeming borderline autistic, and Clyde works hard to peel back the layers of dirty pseudo-dreadlocks and moody reliance on reggae music. Clyde’s wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) works for a funerary guru – who speaks at conferences in how best to deal with grief, and who has hired Connie (Amy Ryan) to help sell ‘grief packages’. Connie seems to be on Jack’s level, staggeringly awkward and socially terrified – on the surface, they would appear to be a perfect fit, and it is to this end that Clyde and Lucy engineer a dinner at their home.
From there the story enters into a familiar world of angst, slow-pace, and conversations that mean everything and yet mean nothing – in other words, the world of the prototypical indie-movie romance. Were there bets as to Hoffman’s first jump behind the camera, this type of film would have been a front-runner – which is not to say that it’s a bad movie, it’s just that bit too predictable. Based on a much-lauded play of the same name, the writer Robert Glaudini also adapted it for screen – but the adaptation process is incomplete. The movie still feels like a play on wheels, and stutters repeatedly through overwrought language and inconsequential climaxes. Building to crescendos, then dropping back to dull hums, the movie limps from interaction to interaction, occasionally offering that sweet and innocent beauty that actors like Hoffman and Ryan can deliver so perfectly. While their romance buds and blooms despite both their awkwardness and incapacity for normative interplay, Clyde and Lucy’s marriage trips and falls in their wake – beautifully acted and wonderfully played, it still lacks a driving force, and it feels as though you’re dragged to the finish.
Hoffman creates a New York of indeterminate time – he listens to a tape walkman, wanders dark and gritty streets reminiscent of pre-Giuliani filthiness, the drug-use even has a faint mid-80s feel, while any mention of politics or 9/11 are noticeable by their absence. The occasional straying into public spaces outside of Clyde and Lucy’s home only serves to highlight the claustrophobic relationships dealt with in the film, and Lucy and Connie’s work taints their characters so that the aura of death and destruction hovers nearby. Intense though the movie is, however, most of the action actually hinges on the cooking of some pork chops, and Jack’s swimming lessons at the local Y.
Aiming to revel in the banality of life, Hoffman has created a movie that feels so much like a play that the suspension of disbelief is a struggle. The awkwardness becomes painful, and the characters, while wonderfully acted and beautifully portrayed, end up leaving you cold as the film limps towards a lack of resolution. Enjoyable, to the extent that anything involving Hoffman will always have merit, and beautifully directed, Jack Goes Boating serves more as a confident CV entry for a budding director rather than an entertaining accomplishment.
Jack Goes Boating is released on 4th November 2011