out of Five
Running time: 91
Despite strong performances, this is ultimately a disappointing drama thanks to its emotionally closed-off characters, and a plodding script that can't quite escape its stagebound origins and never quite sparks to life.
What's it all about?
Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman (making his directorial debut), Jack Goes Boating is based on a play by Bob Glaudini and stars Hoffman as shy forty-something New York limo driver Jack, whose best friends are fellow driver Clyde (John Ortiz) and his feisty wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega), who works in a funeral home. When Clyde and Lucy fix Jack up with Lucy's quirky colleague Connie, the pair begin a tentative relationship, but when Connie mentions going boating in Central Park, Jack panics because he has never learned to swim.
However, Clyde kindly agrees to teach Jack to swim in preparation for any boating-related eventualities and the pair start meeting regularly at a pool in Harlem. At the same time, Clyde confesses to Jack that he thinks Lucy is having an affair with “the Cannoli” (Salvatore Inzarillo), a pastry chef at the Waldorf Hotel.
As you might expect from Philip Seymour Hoffman, he's clearly something of an actor's director and he duly gets strong performances from each of his co-stars (which actually isn't that surprising, since Ortiz, Rubin-Vega and Hoffman all reprise their roles from the original stage play and Amy Ryan is some sort of acting genius anyway). He also orchestrates a terrific dinner party scene, which is the central event of the play and the highlight of the film.
The film's biggest problem is that Jack's character is so emotionally closed-off (at times it almost seems as if he's a bit slow, which apparently isn't the case) that it's extremely difficult to engage with him on an emotional level. Similarly, Jack and Connie both have obvious emotional problems, yet they disappointingly refuse to acknowledge this, leaving both characters frustratingly under-defined.
On top of that, Hoffman's evident attachment to the play is a little too strong and the film fails to transcend its stagebound origins, to the point where it starts to feel dry and airless. Similarly, some of the scenes drag on so long that it's a surprise to discover the film is actually only 91 minutes long.
This is ultimately something of a disappointment thanks to a plodding, overly stagey script and frustratingly withdrawn characters. Put it this way – you wouldn't rush to see the play after seeing the film.