Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jack Goes Boating: Grade A


Jack Goes Boating (2010)

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, Daphne Rubin-Vega, John Ortiz; Director Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Jack (Hoffman) and Clyde (Ortiz) are a couple of 40 year old limo drivers in New York City who like reggae music. Clyde fixes Jack up with Connie (Ryan), a woman who works as a telemarketer with his wife, Lucy (Rubin-Vega). The date goes well, a relationship evolves, and Jack makes two promises, to take Connie boating next summer, and to cook a dinner next month at Clyde’s apartment (because Jack lives in his parents’ basement and has only a hotplate). Jack learns how to cook, and also how to swim, in preparation. The dinner party goes well at first, then turns to disaster when the food is burned and a fierce argument erupts between Clyde and Lucy. Jack and Connie make a hasty retreat and presumably will go boating next summer. That’s it. Eighty four minutes.

Now, why isn’t that the most boring movie you've ever heard of? One reason is the excellent writing. The dialog is completely original, interesting, witty, natural, and flows from the wellsprings of the human condition. (The story is from an off-Broadway play by Robert Glaudini that Hoffman starred in.) Add to that, remarkable, riveting, heartfelt acting, especially by Hoffman and Ryan. Hoffman never ceases to amaze me with his courage. He can do embarrassed vulnerability like no other actor. Ryan does vulnerability almost as well, but her character is more psychologically complex, so she adds a touch of fearful paranoia, which works extremely well. Ortiz and Rubin-Vega (also from the original stage performance) give fine performances, if not quite as nuanced. Ortiz’s voice and diction sound so much like Denzel Washington that it is distracting at first.

Then you have to consider the excellent directing, by Hoffman also. It is his directorial debut and clearly he has the knack. The overall feel is kind of stagey and a bit claustrophobic, but so are the characters’ lives, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The tone is Woody-Allenesque – nothing terribly original there, but the way Hoffman gets the camera right into the faces of his performers, including himself, is just as courageous as his own acting is. Finally, add in a first rate job on other elements of the movie, from the infectious reggae and Bill Evans soundtrack to pitch-perfect costumes and sets. It all adds up to a tour de force and a mesmerizing adult relationship drama that has not a minute of slack.

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