Jack Goes Boating

16 Oct

Title: Jack Goes Boating
Year: 2010
Director: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Writer: Robert Glaudini, adapting from his own play
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega
MPAA Rating: R, language, drug use and some sexual content
Runtime: 89 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%


Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directorial debut with an adaptation of the Bob Glaudini play he acted on stage previously, and he has Mr. Glaudini writing the adaptation and John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega, his original co-stars on the stage version of the play, reprising their roles, with the one newcomer being Amy Ryan, replacing Beth Cole in the role of Connie. So yes, this was pretty much a cast reunion doing what they did so many nights before, but this time in a larger scale.

I didn’t see Jack Goes Boating on stage, though I hear it’s quite good, but the film version I have seen, and I found it to be a very sensitive piece, and a film that’s simply well-acted throughout its entirety. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a terrific actor, definitely one of the most versatile actors around and someone I would watch in anything he ever decided to do, and in this, his directorial debut, he directs himself like few have ever directed him. That’s because he, as a director, allowed himself, as an actor, to fully go for it, not always looking at himself in the most flattering of lights, but always getting a performance out of himself that is absolutely effective.

Jack is a limousine driver, and he’s just a very sort of likable guy in the way that every other Philip Seymour Hoffman character has been likable. Likable not because he has the goods, not because he’s the good guy necessarily, but because Mr. Seymour Hoffman embeds all his characters with this emotion that just makes the audience want to root for him and instantly feel connected to him. He embeds the same qualities to Jack, who hangs out in an empty limo looking at the New York skyline with his best friend Clyde, played by John Ortiz. Clyde is the antithesis to Jack, he’s more confident in himself, and tries to teach Jack a few skills for him to eventually get a girl. And it just so happens that Clyde’s wife, Lucy, played by Daphne Rubin-Vega, has a friend from work who’s just like Jack, so naturally she and Clyde think they should get those two to hook up.

That girl is called Lucy, a very shy girl who works at a funeral home, and she is played by Amy Ryan, the new member of the gang, the one that hasn’t done this before, but Ms. Ryan fits perfectly in with these other three actors in the sense that it looks as she knows her role just as well as the others do, and her performance is just as meticulous as the other three are. And that should come as no surprise to those who, like me, are fans of her work. Here’s an actress who, just like Philip Seymour Hoffman, can rock the hell out of every role that’s thrown at her, whether it’s Holly Flax, the soulmate to Steve Carell’s Michael Scott in The Office, or as Beadie Russell in The Wire, or as Helene McCready, her Academy Award nominated (and in my opinion Academy Award deserving) role in the terrific Gone Baby Gone.

So yeah, this is a tremendous cast, each of them giving just spectacular performances. There are only four characters in this film, and for such films to really work you need four fantastic actors, and that’s what you get if you go see Jack Goes Boating. You can attest to this in that dinner scene with the four of them, that’s just a testament to the quality of actors these people are, the emotions in that scene are perfect, just right, not too exaggerated, not too subdued.

This is a very brave piece of filmmaking, a very intimate affair, one that one would have thought would have been better off staying as a play and not made its way to a feature film. And that’s true to some extent, which is why I’m not giving it a grade within the A-range, because it does still feel like a small affair, it seems like a play in too many ways, which is good because it allows the performances to remain as intimate, and the story to remain the same and not give way to some sort of modern-cinema-pleasing formulas. But it’s also bad because it felt exactly like a taped performance of the play, with only the added ability to move to different locations. The performances are terrific, yes, but I feel like maybe it was too familiar for these guys, other than Ms. Ryan the main players are the same as they were in the play, and maybe that’s what ultimately did them in, and maybe another fresh face or perspective would have done them some good.

But nevertheless, that was just to state what prevented me from grading it better, because this is still a very good film, a very solid directorial debut by Philip Seymour Hoffman who, as I said, directed himself perfectly, being, literally, in his own face at times with the many close-ups we get, and directed his co-stars just as well, all four players just give amazing performances. And we should be grateful for that. Yes, the film may still feel a bit too much like a play, but at least it’s a damn fine play we’re seeing.

Grade: B+


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