|Director: Philip Seymour Hoffman
|Screenplay: Robert Glaudini (based on his play)
|Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Jack), Amy Ryan (Connie), John Ortiz (Clyde), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Lucy), Salvatore Inzerillo (Cannoli), Richard Petrocelli (Uncle Frank), Thomas McCarthy (Dr. Bob), Stephen Adly Guirgis (MTA Worker), Count Stovall (Men's Room Attendant)
|MPAA Rating: R
|Year of Release: 2010
For his directorial debut, it is not particularly surprising that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman decided to helm a screen adaption of Jack Goes Boating, the 2007 off-Broadway play by Robert Glaudini, himself a veteran character actor, which Hoffman’s production company staged and for which the actor won raves playing the lead role. Set in the gritty milieu of working-class New York in the dead of winter, Jack is a sweet and sometimes painfully honest portrait of the interrelationships among four largely internal characters. It is very much an actor’s piece, so it is not hard to see why Hoffman would be drawn to both sides of the camera. So much that passes between characters is unspoken, and even the words that are spoken tend to obfuscate the underlying truths until they come roaring out in the heat of the moment. Hoffman knows this terrain well, having vacillated successfully between deeply repressed like Scotty J. in Boogie Nights (1997) or Allen in Happiness (1998) and flamboyantly exuberant characters like Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) or the rock critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous (2000). In his best roles, including his Oscar-winning turn as the title character in Capote (2005), Hoffman combines the two, playing characters whose surfaces are in deep conflict with their interiors.
The titular Jack is just such a character. A quiet lump of a man who speaks very little and is awkward and ungainly when he does, Jack harbors aspirations to which he rarely gives voice, perhaps because he doesn’t believe he can attain them. His internal world cracks the surface in odd and endearing ways, such as his love of reggae music, which he listens to incessantly on his Walkman and tries to externalize via a clumsy attempt to matt his shaggy blonde hair into dreadlocks. He seems to have little experience in the world, yet when he sets himself to a task, whether it be learning to swim or learning how to cook a dinner-party-worthy feast, he goes after it with nothing less than perfection in mind. The fact that his efforts often end in some kind of failure is his tragedy, but one that makes him powerfully endearing.
Jack’s best friend is Clyde (John Ortiz), with whom he works as a limousine driver. Sensing that Jack needs romantic involvement, Clyde offers to set him up with a mutual friend named Connie (Amy Ryan), who works as a mortician’s assistant and is one of those people who tends to talk just past the point where she should stop. One of the film’s most touchingly funny moments is a casual dinner during which Connie tells the elaborate story of how her father awoke from a three-month coma only to fall on the stairs at home and die. The unintended gallows humor of the story is typical of the film’s darkly comic approach to its sadsack characters, giving them a poignancy that sidesteps cliché and sticky sentiment. Jack’s growing relationship with Connie is the film’s heart, and it is contextualized via Clyde’s increasingly troubled relationship with his long-time girlfriend Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). The more obvious it becomes that Jack and Connie might make it as a couple, the more fragile the bond between Clyde and Lucy becomes; it is as if the newness and innocence of their mutual friends’ growing connection is forcing them to dredge up old wounds that have only healed on the surface, but are still festering inside.
Despite having been adapted from an off-Broadway play, Jack Goes Boating never feels spatially constrained. Hoffman and Glaudini wisely expand the story’s scope to take in as much of the Big Apple as possible while maintaining the story’s emotional concentration. Cinematographer W. Mott Hupfel III (The Savages) keeps the compositions varied, balancing rack-focused close-ups with long shots that meld character and environment. Given the potential darkness of the material, Hoffman wisely inserts variously flights of fancy, visualizing the characters’ dreams of warmer weather and personal achievement in ways that give us hope without diminishing the tough situations in which they live. There is rough emotional terrain to be traversed, but Hoffman doesn’t want to wallow in it.
Hoffman wisely retained Ortiz and Rubin-Vega from the original stage cast; they have a clear sense of Clyde and Lucy as complex and contradictory human beings, and when they have a full-out meltdown at Jack’s would-be triumphant dinner party, it has the sting of people who know just how to hurt each other. Amy Ryan, who was so good as the deadbeat mother in Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone (2007), steps comfortably into the tricky role of Connie, a woman who could easily devolve into quirky clichés but instead emerges as a sweet, but fragile woman trying to find her way in the world and conquer her various hang-ups. She and Hoffman have a wonderful screen chemistry, which gives their scenes together a real sense of tenderness. They are one of the most beautifully, poetically unglamorous couples to cross the screen; that is, they don’t look like movie stars playing puppy love, but rather like real people you might glimpse in the subway. You want them to end up together, even as the film continually suggests that it might not happen. Jack Goes Boating is the most complicated and meaningful of character studies--the kind that warms your heart even as it refuses to guarantee a happy ending.
|Jack Goes Boating Blu-Ray|
Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround
“Jack’s New York” featurette
“From the Stage to the Big Screen” featurette
|Distributor||Overture Films / Anchor Bay Entertainment|
|Release Date||January 18, 2011|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Jack Goes Boating looks very good in its high-def 1080p transfer. The color scheme is fairly muted throughout, with a general emphasis on wintry browns, grays, and blues, although there are some primary colors in the interiors that pop nicely. The image is sharp and well detailed, although it seems to have been kept slightly soft, with a great deal of shallow focus. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel soundtrack is also nicely presented, with good clarity and a decent sense of spaciousness for the music, which plays a crucial role in various scenes.
|The supplements are fairly slim, which is a shame because I would have loved to have heard the cast reunite for an audio commentary. What we do get is two brief deleted scenes and a pair of five-minute featurettes: “Jack’s New York,” in which production designer Thérèse DePrez discusses her approach to the film’s locations (and also articulates one of my personal pet peeves, which is New York-set movies in which ordinary characters live in huge apartments) and “From the Stage to the Big Screen,” in which Hoffman, Ryan, Ortiz, Rubin-Vegan, and playwright Robert Glaudini discuss the film’s stage origins and how their characters transfer to celluloid. |
Overall Rating: (3.5)
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Anchor Bay Entertainment