Philip Seymour Hoffman is a gentle soul, all halting and twitchy, attempting to build something wonderful in his life in Jack Goes Boating, a movie at its best when it’s showing off the very nice Philip Seymour Hoffman performance.
He also directed the movie and so it’s commendable that his performance is so solid and well-crafted. Actors don’t always know how to get the best performances out of themselves when they sit in the director’s chair.
Jack (Hoffman) drives a limo in New York City but wants more. He is a nervous guy, someone who is aware enough of his tendency to freak out a little that he always has a reggae tape cued up in his cassette player to help him capture some good vibes. But he’s trying to move forward in life — applying for a job with the MTA so he can leave the limo company, run by his uncle, and accepting the offer of his longtime friend Clyde (John Ortiz) to set him up on a date. The woman is Connie (Amy Ryan), a coworker of Clyde’s wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). They work together at a funeral home where Connie does some kind of telephone sales. Connie is rather twitchy and strange herself — explaining on her first date the strange death of her father, making a second date with Jack for the summer (the first date happens on a snowy day in winter).
That summer date involves boating and Jack doesn’t know how to swim, so Clyde, who has been giving Jack a bit of tutorial on how relationships work, offers to also teach him how to swim. Except, is Clyde really the best teacher? It turns out his relationship with Lucy is shakier than it initially appears.
On the way out of my house to see this movie, my 10-year-old stepson, always on the lookout for entertainment possibilities, asked what movie I was going to see. An adult movie, you wouldn’t like it, I said. Since to him “adult” means “awesome violence and super cool explosions,” he asked me what it was about. I paused. I’ve seen this trailer throughout the summer but what it was about…. Life and relationships, I said. That sounds boring, he said. A lot of what he considers top-notch entertainment would not hold my attention if it were the only alternative to watching my dishes air dry, but I have to say, he kind of called it. There is a fine line between getting nuanced and subtle windows on moments in someone’s life and, well, watching dishes air dry, and this movie, while it occasionally crosses the line from still life to well-crafted scenes, doesn’t stay on the right side for the whole movie. This is the kind of movie that, when you see in the closing credits it was based on a play, you think “oh, that explains it.”
You feel like you can see the stage, you can hear the throat-clears and shuffles of the people in the audience. Many of these scenes have moments of humor, mostly of the awkward kind, but much more they have lines that sound as showy as David Mamet and gestures that feel like they are being performed, not lived. I liked Hoffman’s performance and mostly enjoyed watching it but he is definitely the peak — the other actors are somewhere along a scale between genuine and showy, with Ryan the closest to Hoffman and Ortiz being about three notches away from breaking into song. C+
Rated R for language, drug use and some sexual content. Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and written by Robert Glaudini (from his play), Jack Goes Boating is an hour and 29 minutes long and is distributed by Relativity Media.