In a city as vast and populated as New York, the new film Jack Goes Boating is a small story centered around four locals. Adapted from a play of the same name, the film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as the titular Jack, a single man who keeps to himself in the basement of his Uncle’s house. It’s apparent that Jack struggles to connect with people (a potential social disorder of some sort?), but he maintains one close friendship with his co-worker Clyde.
Jack and Clyde are limousine drivers mired in the routine of their work for years. While Jack comforts himself with the positive vibes of reggae music, Clyde is the self-medicating type who has a wife to go home to.
The story begins with Clyde and his wife attempting to set-up their respective co-workers Jack and Connie on a blind date. Both potential date partners seem ambivalent but acquiesce just the same. There are hints at likely trauma in both Connie and Jack’s pasts, and they carry that forth into their odd but endearing interactions with one another. Still, their relationship is only half the story.
Clyde’s burgeoning friendship with Jack is approached with a mentor and pupil mentality of sorts with Clyde leading Jack in an adult version of the birds and bees. This is emphasized while Clyde is attempting to hold together a tenuous marriage at home. What unfolds is an interesting story about friendship, a tender love story, betrayal, and even strength where you sometimes least expect it. This also shows the growth of a man when he is encouraged to engage.
There are several laughs throughout, but the brilliance of Hoffman’s directorial debut is that the laughs are often in the awkward pauses between the characters rather than in the bizarre things that they sometimes say or the peculiar ways they express themselves. Sometimes you suppose that Jack and Connie simply are afraid to say what they feel, and then one (usually Connie) will say something that floors you. Good stuff. The only drawback here is that you can see the story unfolding with the inevitable ending developing from a mile away.
The mini-dreadlocked Jack is the lead character but really equal time is devoted to the four main actors who carry virtually every frame of film. TV veteran John Ortiz’s Clyde makes an impression as a charismatic man with issues that are hidden beneath a harder, jovial exterior. Hoffman and Ortiz are co-founders of the LAByrinth Theater in New York and their easy real-life friendship leads to an uncommon chemistry on the big screen. I anticipate Ortiz’s work will steadily increase from such valued screen time in this role.
Amy Ryan continues to show she deserves more work by tackling the challenging role of Connie and convincing us that she exists on every level. Part paranoid and tortured, the other part gentle and loving; you waste no time believing that Connie and Jack couldn’t share a relationship despite their obvious deficiencies.
This is a mature work that is definitely not mainstream but completely worthy of an audience, particularly for fans of independent cinema or quirky relationship comedies. While the drama of how it all turns out is rarely in doubt, its still an enjoyable journey to get there, and that is what matters most here.