By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
I’ve been meaning to get to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut, Jack Goes Boating, ever since it came out, but never really found the impetus to do so. It’s extraordinarily sad that it took his death for me to actually sit down and watch it, and that much more sad to see that we not only lost a preternaturally talented actor, but a promising director who was forming his own unique voice (and whose next film, the ghost story Ezekiel Moss, had just cast Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal the day of his passing).
Here’s a slow loris video. I don’t know if you need this now, but I do.
Jack Goes Boating is the low-key story of a blossoming romance between two socially awkward adults (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Ryan) after being set up by their mutual married couple friends (John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega) whose own relationship is beginning to come apart at the seams.
This film gives a very welcome double dose of Philip Seymour Hoffman both behind and in front of the camera. Behind it, we find a rookie director who’s obviously been paying attention to the laundry list of great directors he’s worked for (and who may have got some good advice from fellow castmate and director Tom McCarthy, who plays a sleazy doctor). The film is well shot by Mott Hupfel (who also worked with Hoffman on The Savages) and it’s clear Hoffman had a good eye for composition and details large and small. The way he employs the score and music by Grizzly Bear is also aces. The result is a weird, sweet film with a distinct voice- full of humanity, effective dark humor, and quirky characterization.
In front of it, Hoffman embodies a tentative, vulnerable man (Jack of the title) who is both gentle and sweet and has a dark ball of hurt and rage at his core that he knows he must not give vent to. As always, it’s a masterful performance. God damn this man was a fine actor.
Somebody had to make Patch Adams watchable
I absolutely love Amy Ryan, who I believe is one of our finest under-recognized actresses. I thought her incredible junkie performance in Gone, Baby, Gone or sweetly comic turn in The Office would propel to her to stardom already, but no such luck so far. Too bad, as once again she’s great as a similarly awkward woman with a huge heart who is the perfect match for Jack. Ortiz and Rubin-Vega also do excellent jobs as a married couple on the ropes, and I hope that their careers get more love as well, as they deserve it.
Unfortunately, the film often struggles with tone. This may because this was originally a stage play (starring the principal cast minus Amy Ryan), although there’s only a 30 minute difference in runtime between the two (compared to a crippling hour or so difference between the stage and film versions of August: Osage County). Regardless, it swings between joy to building dread to a cheesy sign-along to more dread… it’s a bit too much, too fast. Various unresolved skin-crawling narrative asides, like McCarthy’s handsy doctor boss or a subway pervert assault, both of whom just get to go on creeping up NYC apparently, don’t help matters.
The tone problems may also come from the thick layer of cassette player-porting quirkiness indie productions like this often suffer from. Some of it works, like Jack’s reggae obsession, which becomes an essential plot point, and some of it doesn’t.
Like, say, Jack’s dreadlocks
Oh, and don’t get me started on that sex scene. I guess there’s something for everyone…
Jack Goes Boating is an uneven, but ultimately worthwhile entry into the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s resume, and a promising debut from a director we’ll unfortunately never get to see grow.
Here’s a slow loris again.
Take a Drink: whenever someone makes a limo pickup
Take a Drink: whenever someone says something morbid
Take a Drink: for every swimming lesson
Take a Drink: whenever Jack visualizes something
Do a Shot: when Jack goes boating, obviously