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Jack Goes Boating
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by Erik Childress

"Should Go Fishing For A New Best Friend"
3 stars

It seemed inevitable that Philip Seymour Hoffman was has alternated quirky supporting roles and villainous louts with playing soft-spoken, occasionally lovelorn leads would ultimately make his directorial debut playing a quirky, soft-spoken guy with romance issues. Bob Glaudini's 2007 play - of which Hoffman was a part of - is just the kind of material we might expect an actor to baby-step his way behind the camera and be welcomed with open arms on the film festival circuit. Beginning a bit insufferably and then settling into half of something potentially special, Hoffman the director missteps his way into the third act that, on film, exposes more flaws than within just the characters.

Hoffman plays Jack, a single limo driver in New York whom we could see as one of those guys in the city probably OK with being by himself. He has a friend though in his co-worker, Clyde (John Ortiz), who has arranged a blind double date for him with Connie (a very good Amy Ryan), another socially-awkward New Yorker who works with his wife, Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Jack discovers the little things in life that Connie enjoys, such as the prospect of going boating once the Winter thaws into Spring. This gives Jack the impetus to be like another Jack and want to be a better man, or at least one that can provide Connie with just enough wish fulfillment to make her happy. So as Clyde makes it his personal mission to help Jack out, he is also struggling with a marriage that is slowly crumbling.

Glaudini's adaptation of his play sticks pretty close to three half-hour acts where you can practically see the curtains close and the tech crew feverishly changing sets. The first act doesn't so much introduce us to these characters as rather just throw us into the middle of scenes with them. The first dinner date is frustrating in the manner we are eavesdropping into a conversation about Connie's misfortune with her father that is better left awkwardly excusing oneself from the table than having to endure her monotone storytelling for a second longer. This is not how we want to get to know someone. But things begin to change as Jack and Connie are provided some alone time together away from the mouths of the other couple who view them almost as pets they need to train. Left to their own desires and cautions, Connie and Jack open up to each other and to us and gives us hope that the story will shift focus exclusively to them.

It's unfortunate that things fall apart so drastically in the final third, for both the characters and Hoffman the director. Everything is leading towards Jack's big dinner party that he has been preparing all month. No matter how many times he blindly rehearsed though, at no point did it involve a hookah, a drunk and an uninvited guest. The film almost threatens to become a farce if it were not for Jack's somewhat extreme, but justified reaction to the elements disrupting his plans. It is the others' reaction that amount to miscalculation by Glaudini in his text and the decisions Hoffman has made leading up to it. A favorite reggae song of Jack's makes a reappearance during this scene and what should have been a touching, intimate moment between him and Connie turns into a grossly comic attempt at unified levity. Perhaps on the stage, the perceived tension the play has been building towards earned a shared anxiety or nervous laughter in the audience. In Hoffman's attempts at opening it up beyond Jack's apartment we lose a direct connection to Clyde's rising disconnection with his wife. And Ortiz's overly manic choices only want us to disconnect with him entirely.

We understand Glaudini's motivation to counter one couple's beginnings with another's decline, but that is only relevant culturally if the pair are evenly matched from the get-go. The problems of Clyde and Lucy do not correspond to Jack and Connie since we never believe the latter would cheat on each other or willingly partake in substances that would increase their paranoia over such things. Ortiz plays Clyde so broadly that by the end we are hoping someone just grabs him by the collar and puts him outside like the family dog. If you can tune out his barking long enough, it's possible to envelop yourself in the quieter, far more honest moments between the real couple of the story. Audiences attuned to these kind of four-person dramas will get pretty much what they expect. The biggest fans of Hoffman though have seen better versions of this one-man show before.

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originally posted: 09/24/10 14:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/16/11 Narda the movie lost a thing or two. Needed a fix 3 stars
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  DVD: 18-Jan-2011


  DVD: 18-Jan-2011

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