Jack Goes Boating (2010)

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The directorial debut from Philip Seymour Hoffman provides even more to look at and critique than the directorial debut of someone we’ve never heard of. Because everyone should know by now just how great an actor Hoffman is so it’s interesting to see how he deals with the directorial duties.

Putting himself in the lead role is a great ace up the sleeve and, as expected, he’s great onscreen as the titular Jack, a shy, reggae-loving limo driver who wants to find love and a career with the MTA. His best friend, Clyde (John Ortiz), tries to help him in every way he can but also has a lot of his own problems barely held in check below the surface. Clyde’s wife, Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega), is also on hand to help and things seem to be looking up when the folks introduce Jack to Lucy’s colleague, Connie (Amy Ryan). Can the reticent Jack somehow manage to learn to swim, learn to cook and apply for the MTA while building a loving relationship with the equally ever-so-slightly awkward Connie?

Working from Robert Glaudini’s script (based on his own play – one that Hoffman had already taken the lead role in), Jack Goes Boating mixes in some great characters with a lot of black humour. In fact, the film starts with one of the funniest conversations centred around a coma that I’ve ever heard and has one or two set-pieces that provide an equal mix of laughs, pity and frustration.

It helps that all of the actors slot nicely into their characters, with Hoffman and Ryan just edging ahead of Ortiz and Rubin-Vega (though that’s helped by where audience sympathies lie, not just the performances).

Great script, great acting, so how does Hoffman fare as the director of the piece? He shows great skill, pacing things perfectly and using a running theme of “pre-visualisation” to help elevate some of the repetitive scenes. He knows when to push in close and when to hang back and let the audience breathe while situations become better or worse and he certainly knows the value of a well-placed laugh. If you watch the movie and enjoy it as I did then I pretty much guarantee that you’ll always be grinning whenever you hear the song “By The Rivers Of Babylon”, used here on cassette as a way to invoke a positive vibe.

I’ve seen others compare parts of this movie to Punch Drunk Love and, in a way, that’s not too far off the mark. For my own take, however, the misfits coming together and making their own, very unique, romance was more akin to the wonderful Benny & Joon, and I love Benny & Joon.

Jack Goes Boating is showing at EIFF on Sun 19 June and Tue 21 June at George Sq Theatre, tickets are £9 and it’s worth catching this little gem before it gets a wider release in October of this year.

DIRECTOR: PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN
STARS: PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, AMY RYAN, JOHN ORTIZ, DAPHNE RUBIN-VEGA, TOM MCCARTHY
RUNTIME: 90 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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