Peter Eramo Reviews: “Jack Goes Boating”
September 27, 2010 2 Comments
For such an over-populous and forever busy city, New York can be a pretty lonely place to live for any single person. Whether you are attractive and reaping in the dough or a bit homely and hold a tedious, low-paying job that not many aspire to, if you don’t have that special someone wrapped around your arms, the City That Never Sleeps can go to bed pretty damn early. Enter Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an overweight, unkempt, pot-smoking, socially awkward limo driver who leads a pretty quiet, meek existence amidst the millions that inhabit the Big Apple. He likes reggae music for its upbeat vibes, dons knotted dreads under his unappealing winter hat and isn’t much of a talker, even to the social elite that he chauffeurs around the city. But he has a good-natured and devoted best friend in Clyde (John Ortiz) who looks out for his best interests and sets his timid friend up on a blind date with a gal who works in his wife’s office at Dr. Bob’s Funeral Home.
Such is the premise of Jack Goes Boating, the new indie film that marks the directorial debut of Hoffman and based on the 2007 off-Broadway play by Bob Glaudini. Hoffman originated the role of Jack in the staged production that was mounted at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre and he brings back Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega (who plays Clyde’s wife, Lucy) to reprise their stage roles for the film. Hoffman obviously feels a close kinship to the material and to its emotionally delicate characters and this much is clear in the film adaptation. Oscar-nominee Amy Ryan, not part of the staged play, slips in to play Connie, Jack’s love interest. When Jack firsts meets the equally shy Connie at a low-key dinner set up at Clyde & Lucy’s apartment, he immediately takes a liking to her and is inspired to alter his lifestyle just a bit…for the better, I might add. Connie mentions wanting to go on a romantic boat ride when the weather gets warm; she brings up the fact that no man has ever bothered to cook a meal for her before. Of course, Jack wants to be the man to give her that boat ride and cook her a feast to remember. The only problem is…he can’t cook and he can’t swim. Jack must really like her though because in no time, Clyde is teaching him how to swim at the public pool and he hires someone to teach him how to cook. Ahh, those first stages of love can be oh-so-inspiring. As the film shows the blossoming relationship between Jack and Connie though, we see the slow disintegration of Clyde and Lucy’s marriage, which makes for an interesting combination.
The performances here are all solid, with Hoffman at the center as the lovable eccentric with so much love to offer. Amy Ryan fits the role of Connie nicely and the two work quite well off one another, especially in their more intimate scenes together. The relationship here constantly reminded me of the one between Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer in The Fisher King, and the juxtaposition of the two couples and the directions they are going in reminded me of Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives — two pretty damn good films to be reminded of, if you ask me. The focus on these four characters and all of their emotional hang-ups and oddities is handled with subtlety and care. Hoffman also takes advantage of using the magical backdrop of Manhattan in wintertime, with some very charming scenery. But in the end, some plays are meant to stay plays.
I could never quite put my finger on what makes a successful adaptation from the stage to the silver screen. Some (like Glengarry Glen Ross and The Night We Never Met) make the transition quite seamlessly and make for some wonderful movies. Others (Hurlyburly and American Buffalo), well…not so much, despite top-notch performances. Some stories are just better suited for the stage. Sometimes the magic that the confines of the theatre brings is lost when brought to the big screen. Such is the case with Jack Goes Boating. Now, I never saw the staged production, but it is such an intimate little piece that I would imagine it made for an enchanting and charming night of theatre. As a feature film, this simple story with its complex characters gets lost in the translation. A big part of this problem is Glaudini’s screenplay, based on his own play. The dialogue throughout feels stilted and very “stagey” — a heightened sense of awareness that works well on a small stage, but doesn’t make for good movie-speak. I know that Hoffman fell in love with the play and its script, but perhaps someone else could have adapted it with greater success and more realism because many times I felt that this is not the way these characters would speak in real life. Yes, we do get to see what’s going on inside of Jack’s mind — something you can’t really get with the theatre — and Hoffman shows us what his character is visualizing in his mind’s eye, whether it be under water in the pool or on top of a bridge with traffic streaming below him. It works to an extent.
Another problem I had was with the soundtrack. Hoffman floods the film with an over-abundance of music which sometimes takes away from what is going on in the scene or just makes for an awkward fit. The reggae song, “Rivers of Babylon” though is central to the film and the essence of what makes Jack tick — and this is used very well, except for the when it is used to lure Jack out of the bathroom after throwing a violent tantrum that comes pretty much out of left field.
I very much wanted to love this film going in. After seeing the trailer a couple of months ago, I was very excited for its release — and the trailer does make it look like a quirky and charming love story. And, at times, it is. However, for me, as a whole, it just wasn’t enough and falls disappointingly short. There are too many uncomfortable moments to sit through that take away from enjoying the experience of watching Jack’s ride. Lucy is also a difficult character to like and I feel that in more capable hands, the audience would be able to empathize with her at least a little bit. Here, she gets none of our sympathy and we are left feeling very sorry for poor Clyde. I would think that fans of Philip Seymour Hoffman would appreciate and enjoy this film — and this character is right up his alley — and yes, it is at least more original than most of the romantic comedies being released nowadays, but in the end, I am not sure that is enough to give it my recommendation.