Film Reviews


By • Oct 11th, 2010 •

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Too many romantic dramas and romantic comedies have this bad habit of constantly poking the audience, saying: “See, I’m a special movie, because I’m about ordinary people. I’m just like real life!” Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s film directorial debut JACK GOES BOATING never surrenders to this self-conscious bad habit. Hoffman’s film is a charming cinematic gaze at Jack, a New York City everyman who discovers love and lets his newfound emotions pick him up by the bootstraps.

Jack (Hoffman) is a reticent Queens limo driver, a fan of Jamaican music, and that’s about it personality-wise. His best friend, Clyde (Jon Ortiz), also a limo driver sets him up with a blind date with the wall-flowerish Connie (Amy Ryan). To make himself more a catch for Connie, Jack gets Clyde to teach him how to swim (Part of the film’s gentle comedy is that we see it’s the middle of a snowy winter, and Jack is preparing for a summer date!) Clyde hooks Jack up with a womanizing cook, Frank, (Richard Petrocelli) to teach him how to prepare a special dish for his first date with Connie. Clyde and his live-in girlfriend (Daphne Rubin-Vega) as well as the worldly Frank are tangled in dishonest romantic relationships all ready to crash and burn. Jack doesn’t want his life with Connie to be that way. Industrial strength disaster strikes Jack and Connie’s first date. It’s up to Jack and his true feelings for Connie to live past the disaster and nurture the relationship.

I first noticed Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a talent to watch in the1996 popcorn nasty-weather hit TWISTER where he plays a wigged out tornado chasher. Since then, Hoffman has worked opposite everybody in Hollywood, (Meryl Streep in DOUBT, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR, etc.) and has taken home an Oscar for his dead-on accurate portrayal as CAPOTE. He used all this collected experiences well for his impressive directorial debut. Hoffman stages most of his film in claustrophobic NYC areas such as tiny offices, a crowded subway car, a limo sitting out a blizzard, and cramped apartments. It’s almost if Hoffman’s camera had zoomed in to sharpen the focus, and then refused to zoom out to compose the shot. This tightening creates a bit of romantic tension in the first half, and in the second half it enhances the film’s intimacy.

John Ortiz (AMERICAN GANGSTER, PUBLIC ENEMIES) pairs seamlessly with Hoffman as Jack’s mentor, friend, and person not to imitate.

I can’t help but think that Hoffman was influenced by another director who thrived on claustrophobia – Samuel Fuller. Moments in JACK GOES BOATING reminded me of Fuller’s ode to New York City walls closing in – PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET.

Hoffman, Ortiz and Vega played these same roles in the off Broadway production of Bob Glaudini’s original play JACK GOES BOATING, which was produced by Hoffman’s theatrical production company, LAByrinth.

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