Directors in search of the generally unfamiliar, too little seen or heard workingclass experience on screen, tend to replicate instead, not so much the other side of the tracks, but somewhat further away in what seems more like strangers in a strange land aliens from another planet. Compound that with the lack of dramatic restraint too often associated with actors turned directors, or even worse, actors directing themselves in a movie, and you’re likely to end up with, well, Jack Goes Boating.
Helmed by acclaimed star Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Goes Boating is based on Bob Glaudini’s play that he’s adapted for this movie, from the Off-Broadway production of Hoffman’s theater troupe, LAByrinth. Which essentially means, as such transplants usually do, that insularity preempts intimacy. And a far too often reenacted claustrophobic living quarters populated by rowdy when not fretful or bickering couples, is more than a little like repeat visits to annoying relatives, and with audiences involuntarily made to eavesdrop on their petty quarrels.
Hoffman is Jack in this gathering of bruised and broken personalities, a limo driver with chronic low self-esteem. Jack’s best and really only friends, co-worker Clyde (John Ortiz) and his sparring mate Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) are focused on improving Jack’s life circumstances, perhaps to avoid dealing with their own crumbling married sorely tested by an infidelity long ago.
So the couple plays matchmaker, introducing Jack to equally drab and insecure Connie (Amy Ryan), Lucy’s clerical co-worker at a funeral home. And as part of Jack’s new determination to perfect the art of courtship, he signs up for swimming lessons as prelude to taking Connie boating when spring arrives. He also applies for a job as a driver with the MTA, which subjects him to frustrating encounters with the NYC bureaucracy.
And as Jack’s clumsy relationship with Connie advances, Clyde and Lucy face a bitter marriage that is increasingly disintegrating. These episodes are discomforting and unpleasant as a viewing experience, to say the least. Even with characters getting stoned and nearly burning the apartment down as a result of an overcooked dinner, that is intended to signal fleeting comic relief.
Now while I’m not, as a film critic, going to go overboard with Jack Goes Boating, so to speak, in objecting and conversely championing the entire blue collar demographic as rocket scientists, there needs to be more of a quest for, say, some middle ground in movies. In other words, is it fairly safe to say, enough already. Knock it off with the condescension towards impersonated workingclass characters stumbling with monosyllabic confusion over the English language like mental midgets, and struggling with bad grammar. Along with utterly childish, cranky behavior stuck in arrested development somewhere between the schoolyard and the terrible two’s. One need only consider the grade school reader sounding title of this movie, to get the gist.
And though the cast chemistry and performances are flawlessly intertwined, the acting is no more than that, fragmented episodic emotional posturing upstaging the story, and more suited to acting exercises in drama class. And while Jack Goes Boating, Hoffman goes directing, a decision that should entail more scrutiny the next time around.