Review: Jack Goes Boating

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Stage-to-screen adaptations have a rich history, theatre the most obvious forefather of cinema. Often the result of passionate work on the part of the original playwrights to get their work filmed, theatrical adaptations have also been helmed by actors, some of whom have stepped behind the camera to oversee a faithful reproduction of the work they so love. Such is the case with Jack Goes Boating, the 2010 directorial debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

A limousine driver with his uncle’s rental company, Jack lives a simple, if perhaps somewhat empty life. Introduced to the timid Connie by their mutual married friends Clyde and Lucy, Jack finds himself taking lessons in cooking and swimming to impress Connie on their dates. As their relationship blossoms, the marriage of their friends begins to falter, and they realize the rocky road which lies ahead.

Ever the likeable, charismatic actor, Hoffman’s decision to step behind the camera to realize cinematically a project about which he is passionate is admirable, following in the footsteps of, for instance, Pacino with Chinese Coffee. His direction, though by no means something to herald as the sign of a great talent to rise, is entirely efficient, getting the best from his fellow performers. As his girlfriend-to-be, Amy Ryan is splendid, the shy charm she brings to her performances here resplendently displayed. One would require a heart of stone to not root for these lonely people looking for meaningful human contact in the big city. Hoffman and Ryan make us believe in these characters, though their story may be one we have seen times untold before this. Theirs is an endearing liaison, the way in which they play off each other’s insecurities ensuring we wholly root for their eventual union. The contrast with the ailing marriage of their friends serves to add a further layer of meaning to their budding relationship; simultaneously showing the inception and disintegration of love inspires thought as to where it can all go wrong, and how people manage to destroy something which starts off so well. Charming approach to its romance aside, Jack Goes Boating is, primarily, a comedy, and alas in its comedy it struggles desperately to stay afloat. Much of the humour in the film’s first half emerges from the mild awkwardness of Jack and Connie’s courtship, particularly Jack’s accidental commitments to activities in which he has no experience. These laughs are, at their best, muted chuckles of appreciation, nothing in them particularly memorable. It is in its second half that the film attempts more significant laughs to support the increased dramatic tension of the unfolding plot, though the manner of delivery it chooses represents a near-fatal misstep, transforming itself into a painfully stereotypical stoner comedy. This tremendously misjudged development dominates the film’s final scenes, undoing any good will the preceding hour may have developed within the viewer as the actors play out sequences of frustratingly pantomimic silliness. Descending from a mature and reservedly comic drama into a farcical display of teenage lunacy is the final nail in the coffin, and a cast with fine potential winds up squandered.

Were it played as more of a straight drama, Jack Goes Boating’s central romance would be enough to make it worth investing time in watching it. Its consistently flat efforts to raise laughs never amount to anything more than mild chuckles, however, and it sees fit to descend into an absurd charade in a last-ditch effort to be funny. Wonderful as they are, not even Hoffman and Ryan can save it from that.

[notification type=”star”]48/100 – Jack Goes Boating descends from a mature comic drama into a farcical display of teenage lunacy, squandering a cast with a fine potential and a charming central romance.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.