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Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a meek, mild and closed-off guy that doesn’t really ask for much from others, so therefore, he never gets asked of much in return. He’s sort of just there, without really bringing anything to the table or to the world, even though he does have a pretty fine job as a limo driver. Through mutual friends, Jack gets set-up with a woman who is a little bit of the same as him (Amy Ryan), although a tad more scared of a human-connection, which she apparently has a dark history about. Together, they meet, they hit it off and Jack suddenly becomes interested in cooking, being a better guy and even learning how to boat, so that he can take him and his girl out on it. On the other hand, we have Jack’s best buddy, Clyde (John Ortiz), who is having a bit of his own lady problems; except in his case, it’s his long-term wife, Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). All four do spend time together, hang out, eat food, get drunk and try to have fun, but eventually, problems do begin to arise for both couples and lead to some very sad, very upsetting truths being unearthed.
Usually when an actor goes to make that jump from being in front of the screen, to trying their hand at the back of it, most of the time, they tend to go for the small, sweet and simple stories that aren’t that big, or ambitious to pull-off well with a lot of skill. All they need is just a simple idea of how to handle a camera, and basically, just know how to film a movie, of which most actors-turned-directors have a clear idea of. Or at least they should have.
So, that’s why when Philip Seymour Hoffman decided that he wanted to try and shake things up a bit with his own career and get behind the action, it seemed like a no-brainer that he’d not only adapt a play he starred in back in the day, but also not try to really reach out of his limits as a director. Which, for some directors, would be rather lame, but for him, it works in its own condensed, easy-going way.
Sure, there’s nothing here about Jack Goes Boating that’s really life-changing or revolutionary in terms of what you’ll be thinking about when it ends, but does every movie need to change your life? Especially when all it’s about is a bunch of people with some very closed-off personalities who just so happen to know one another, and talk and fall in love? Yeah, I don’t think so and I have to give Hoffman at least credit for not really trying to over-step his boundaries as a director. If it was somebody like Scorsese, or Spielberg, or even Spike Lee behind the mantel, then yeah, I’d be a little ticked-off and disappointed considering I usually expected them to make something, out of anything, no matter how small or large; but as for Hoffman – the guy never over-steps anything that’s given to him. Instead, he just focuses on our four characters and gives them a chance to show us why they deserve to be looked at, thought about and discussed.
And even if you don’t go that far into your thought-process with these characters, there’s nothing all that wrong with that because each and everybody is good with their own respective roles, which is something to applaud Hoffman for in at least handing over the spotlight, on many occasions, to his supporters in this rather tiny cast. Even so though, it’s apparently clear that Hoffman really owns the screen whenever he gives himself a chance to do so, and it’s great to see him play this nervous, awkward and twitchy guy, but not done so in a way that we’ve seen him do before in something like Magnolia and Happiness (where he was a lot more creepier). Jack’s just a simple guy, who wants to impress this lady of his that he just met and practically fell head-over-heels for and we can’t help but want to see the big lug get his happiness, get the love of his life and best of all, get his boating-license. There are small goals these characters set for themselves, and just being able to watch them as they try their hardest to get to that point, truly is something worth seeing, especially in Jack’s case.
However, as much as this story may be Jack’s, it could have easily been Clyde’s as well, and it still would have been just as compelling, if not more. Most of that has to do with the character is written so richly to where you get a general idea that he’s a different person everywhere he goes, but that’s also because John Ortiz himself is so damn good in the role, making you think just what the hell he is going to do next every time he shows up. Ortiz has been one of my favorite character actors since I first checked him out in American Gangster, and I’m happy to see that not much has changed; especially here with his role as Clyde where he gets to show all sorts of sides to his character. Clyde can sometimes be too touchy and put people in an uncomfortable situation; sometimes too open to the point of where he’s revealing stuff his wife sure as hell wouldn’t want revealed in a million years; sometimes too happy and spirited to where he’s just simply over-bearing; and sometimes, he can be a bit of a dick, saying and doing the wrong things, to the wrong people, at the wrong moments. However, I never hated Clyde for doing these things because I truly did feel like he always meant well and never meant to hurt those around him. Mainly Jack, though.
The ladies get to do some fine work as well with both Daphne Rubin-Vega and Amy Ryan putting in some fabulous work that clearly challenges the guys in how well they can developed and looked-at. Rubin-Vega is great here and seems like the type of wife that can put up with Clyde’s crap for as long as she has, but also seems like the type of woman who doesn’t want to be tied-down too much, regardless of if it hurts her hubby’s feelings or not. We should dislike her for that, but we sometimes see just how pushy Clyde can be, so instead, we sort of sympathize with her and hope the two work it out. As for Ryan, she has a bit more of the “shticky” role where she gets to be odd, off-kilter and slightly neurotic, but never to the point of where it’s annoying. Rather, we always feel like we’re seeing a truly messed-up person who definitely wants love in her life, but just can’t get past that point into intimacy where she has to giver her whole-self to that one and only person. That’s why her scenes with Jack truly are nice to watch, especially their little kiss in the snowfall. Only Ryan and Hoffman could pull that scene off so well, but with Hoffman directing that, it feels all the more sweeter.
Poor guy. He truly will be missed. Another legend gone from the silver screen. But at least we have the memories. At least we have the memories.
Consensus: Essentially, Jack Goes Boating is the type of small, uneventful directorial-debut we expect to see from a well-known actor trying to make that stride over to the other side, but Philip Seymour Hoffman still shows that he was a good director, and definitely understood the tiny, simple and easy-going pleasures of these character’s lives, as well the fact of life itself.
7 / 10 = Rental!!