wed 17/12/2014

Jack Goes Boating | Film reviews, news & interviews

Jack Goes Boating

Philip Seymour Hoffman's debut as a director is a touching autumnal romance

Cook. Swim. Love. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Ryan in 'Jack Goes Boating'

Actors who migrate between stage and screen are often asked in interviews to assess the different disciplines. The answers tend not to vary much. On stage, they explain, you have to make a gift of your performance. In front of the camera, that invasive piece of equipment, you have to be selfish, to hoard, and maybe send out depth-charged truths in the form of discreet flinches and flickers. That’s what’s meant to happen anyway. It’s one of the minor miracles of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in Jack Goes Boating that you can’t imagine he once played the same role in a New York theatre.

For his debut behind the camera, Hoffman has chosen to stay close to home. Bob Glaudini has adapted his own play about a pair of loners in early middle age who edge nervously into each other’s emotional air space. Jack (Hoffman) is a dreadlocked, reggae-obsessed retiring type who drives a limo for a living. His colleague and buddy Clyde (John Ortiz) is the sole provider of such social life as he knows. When Clyde’s wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) invites Connie (Amy Ryan), a new co-worker from her job at a funeral home, over to dinner, the green shoots of some kind of union duly sprout.

The film may as well be called Swim, Cook, Love

But those shoots require a lot of coaxing. Neither is equipped in the language of romance. Connie is a flighty bird, while Jack’s feet are so firmly planted in the ground it’s hard to imagine him taking wing. He is short on practical skills, too. Connie’s fantasy is to go rowing on the lake in Central Park, only Jack can’t swim. Clyde takes it upon himself to instruct him. Jack also wants to host a dinner party, but not knowing his way around a kitchen, needs lessons in that too.

"Maybe a little goodnight kiss? Nothing overwhelming"

The film may as well be called Swim, Cook, Love. What stops it from curdling is the dialogue which Glaudini has withheld from his protagonists. Their one-on-ones - in hospital after Connie is mugged, in bed where they first attempt intimacy - are full of embarrassed silences and goofy stabs at chat. They are beautifully played by Hoffman and Ryan (the only one of the lead quartet who wasn’t also in the play). But there’s also a parallel drama taking place in the marriage of Clyde and Lucy, a sexy Hispanic temptress whose heart is halfway out the door. Clyde’s can-do energy keeps a lid on the well of pain. The lid flies right off, appropriately enough, in the climactic dinner party, and it teaches Jack the final lesson: how not to do this thing called love.

It’s partly this claustrophobic centrepiece scene, played out between four characters in an enclosed apartment, that helps Jack Goes Boating migrate across to the screen with fewer howls of pain that many a domestic drama forced to fill the larger space. The broiling metropolis plays its part too as a backdrop. And in an actors' movie, along the way Hoffman has served up his own visual flourishes: Jack practising his crawl on a bridge over a busy six-lane highway, Jack sensually rehearsing a cook’s hand motions. In their modest way, they embellish and adorn a lovely, quiet chamber piece about learning to float and to feel.

  • Jack Goes Boating opens on Friday

"Chicken, fish or beef": a clip from Jack Goes Boating

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