Philip Seymour Hoffman as Jack
John Ortiz as Clyde
Richard Petrocelli as Uncle Frank
Thomas McCarthy as Dr. Bob
Amy Ryan as Connie
Daphne Rubin-Vega as Lucy
Lola Glaudini as Italian Woman
Stephen Adly Guirgis as MTA Worker
Salvatore Inzerillo as Cannoli
Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman
This review is part of ComingSoon.net's coverage of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival
It's always fun when actors take up directing because you never really know what's going to come out of it or whether they'll even be able to deliver behind the camera. "Jack Goes Boating" is as delightfully odd and quirky as you might expect from an actor like Philip Seymour Hoffman, but it also has a strange tone that's hard to put one's finger on, almost as if it were trying to make itself a harder pill to swallow than need be. (Caveat: Hoffman's debut has a similar offbeat tone as the recent Steve Buscemi vehicle "St. John of Las Vegas," a movie I enjoyed more than most other critics apparently.)
Hoffman plays Jack, a sullen limo driver whose fellow driver Clyde (John Ortiz) and his wife Lucy (Daphne Ruben-Vega) want to try to set him up with one of her co-workers Connie (Amy Ryan). Connie is a complicated woman with serious issues, such as her penchant for having mashers and gropers hit on her constantly, but Jack is willing to do whatever it takes to make things work. When she suggests they go boating in Central Park in the summer, he takes swimming lessons from Clyde, and a misunderstanding over a dinner invite leads to him having to learn how to cook. The entire time, Clyde and Lucy are egging Jack on, even though their relationship is far from perfect. As we learn, she's had a few indiscretions during their marriage that they were able to work through, but as they watch Jack and Connie get closer, wounds that haven't quite healed between their mutual friends are reopened.
Hoffman's Jack is a believable everyman, going through all the emotions even the most confident and attractive man must go through when meeting a woman they want to spend more time with. More than that, Hoffman has created a fine showcase for Amy Ryan's multitude of talents, allowing her to get away from the glammed-down unattractive roles for which she's received attention and show that she can be attractive on many levels. The two of them work as well together on screen as you can expect for two individuals as awkward in their own skin as Jack and Connie, but you can believe every single moment and beat as they try to get to know each other better.
Being that John Ortiz often tends to play smaller satellite roles in films, it's quite a breakthrough for him to play Clyde, a role that allows him to strut his stuff as a character actor. Ortiz's pairing with Ruben-Vega, best known for her stint in "Rent," really delivers on many levels, particularly as they try to work out their issues. Having worked with Hoffman at the LAByinth Theater in Manhattan for years, Ortiz works as his best friend and some of their scenes together are really fun, especially as Clyde teaches Jack to swim.
At its best, there are aspects of "Jack Goes Boating" reminiscent of Woody Allen's earlier Manhattan-based romances, although the movie does get dark at times, very dark, and quite strange as well. The four characters are pleasant enough that it's not impossible to enjoy the movie through some of the weirder moments as the movie culminates with a drug-fueled dinner party that alternates between breezy social chatter and darker drama as everything up until that point comes to a head.
As far as Hoffman's direction, he doesn't have to do a lot of heavy lifting as most scenes take place in an apartment or swimming pool with character interaction that would not be foreign to someone who has directed a lot of theater, but he effectively keeps the film moving smoothly through its tonal shifts.
The Bottom Line:
"Jack Goes Boating" won't be for everyone and it may lose some people along the way as it delves into the darker realms of relationships. Even so, those looking for an often fun and different take on relationships which allows Hoffman's theater colleagues a chance at more substantial film roles, should appreciate the movie for its idiosyncratic leanings.