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Jack Goes Boating
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by brianorndorf

"It rarely floats"
3 stars

“Jack Goes Boating” is a very peculiar film that reaches out for an emotional intensity I’m not convinced it ever achieves. The movie marks the directing debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who strains to lend the picture a certain level of indie film authority, mixing crooked whimsy with exaggerated idiosyncrasy. The feature has few tender moments of joy and pain, but nothing gels in an insightful manner that invites the viewer into the experience.

Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a solitary man urged into a romance with the equally meek Connie (Amy Ryan) at the behest of his married friends, Clyde (John Ortiz) and Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Establishing a hesitant connection, Jack and Connie embark on a strange courtship that challenges them to break out of their cocoons and sample life’s beauty. For Jack, the relationship means shaping up his skills, motivating the reggae-loving chauffer to take swimming and cooking lessons to impress his new love. However, as the twosome bond over their shared appreciation for awkward silences, Clyde and Lucy find themselves growing apart, with past jealousies coming back to haunt them.

Adapted by Robert Glaudini from his own 2007 play, “Jack Goes Boating” is a minimal character piece ornamented with an intriguing used record store atmosphere. Ostensibly a story of two couples at opposite ends of their relationship journey, the film doesn’t opt for the easy path of storytelling. Instead, Hoffman jazzes up the piece with touches of fantasy (Jack often loses himself in thoughts of aquatic and culinary triumph) and shock (Connie is beaten by a subway perve), hoping to bend the material into a series of angles for better exploration. The effect is welcome for the first 30 minutes, with Hoffman extracting a great deal of unease out of the love story, toying with Jack’s OCD-ish tendencies and Connie’s deceptive innocence. There’s no doubt that “Jack Goes Boating” has a personality, but 90 minutes of Hoffman’s aloofness is excessive.

The director clearly has affection for his New York City locations (cinematography by W. Mott Hupfel III is incredible), and the soundtrack grows to be a major component of the story, with reggae acting as a beacon of happiness for Jack, a musical genre he wants to share with his loved ones. Hoffman also retains a nice hold on the performances, which are mannered but purposeful, with Ortiz unpredictable as Jack’s jealous pal and Ryan carefully managing Connie’s modest delusions. The acting works within the perimeter of the script, but there are times when it’s clear the cast, with the exception of Hoffman, doesn’t quite know what to make of the mood. Their confusion is understandable.

“Jack Goes Boating” carries a heavy ambiance but little profundity, wandering around seizing tepid moments of serenity and sorrow. Hoffman’s making an indescribable little film of behaviors and performance, and while that effort is commendable, the picture can’t help but come off insincere, waiting patiently for some sign of cinematic life that isn’t completely affected.

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originally posted: 01/15/11 00:49:13
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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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