Hoffman Goes Directing

Title: Jack Goes Boating

Cert:  15

Director:  Philip Seymour Hoffman

Major players:  Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega

Out of five?  3.5

Jack Goes Boating is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s first outing as star and director.  But, if recent interviews are to be believed, it will be his last.  Not as a director, you understand – he’s comfortable with that and has a number of stage productions under his belt – but his first and last attempt at directing himself.  He’s adamant he hates it – which is a shame.

Based on Robert Glaudini’s play of the same name (he also wrote the screenplay), the film is the story of a hesitant romance between awkward but tender-hearted Jack (Hoffman) and Connie (Amy Ryan).  The pair are set up on a blind date by Jack’s best friend Clyde (John Ortiz) and his wife (Rubin-Vega), and the film follows Jack as he makes changes in his life – learning to swim, learning to cook, becoming a cab driver – all with the aim of winning his girl.  As they come together, they also become the catalyst that causes their friends’ marriage to fall spectacularly apart.

All of which is probably not the most original of plots, but what carries it along is the acting from the four central players.  From the outside, Hoffman and Ortiz look like the most unlikely of buddies: the former big, bulky, slow and sartorially challenged, the latter small, smart, quick and slicked-back.  But it works, and so do their performances.  Hoffman, in particular, shows his depth and range as an actor, moving seamlessly from the political animal of last month’s The Ides of March to somebody you’d walk past in the street without a second glance.  Hopefully he might change his mind about directing himself again, because he makes a good job of it – and the film as a whole.

It does, however, have its weaknesses.  The fact that it’s based on a play seeps through, with the second half looking particularly stage-bound.  And there are times when it just too slow: some startling images and the gentle humour throughout (most of which comes from Jack’s awkwardness) both help, but they’re not quite enough.

Jack Goes Boating won’t be everybody’s cup of tea.  It’s fragile, bittersweet and, at times, just plain quirky.  But if you’re happy to spend just over 90 minutes watching one of the best of the current crop of actors at the top of his tree, just settle down in your seat and enjoy Jack’s personal triumphs.  I did.

And if you want to find out more about how Hoffman came to make the film, as well as his views on directing himself, check out the video on BAFTA Guru of his interview earlier this year with Francine Stock.  http://guru.bafta.org/philip-seymour-hoffman-interview-video

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