Jack Goes Boating Review

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Score

Hoffman the director is never out of his depth, but it’s discouraging just how laboriously he wades through the plot.

Indie ahoy! Philip Seymour Hoffman goes directing in this well-intended but flat-footed meander through a shy New Yorker’s dysfunctional daily grind. Hoffman is Jack, a fortysomething blue-collar omega male looking for a soulmate to fill the void in his stagnant life.

Enter mousey singleton Connie (Amy Ryan), who takes a shine to Jack after a fumbled blind date set up by mutual pals Clyde (John Ortiz) and Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). After watching the fruits of their matchmaking labour begin to bloom, Clyde and Lucy are forced to acknowledge the faults in their own domestic set-up. He doesn’t trust her; she doesn’t respect him. Their marriage is a mess.

While watching his best (indeed, only) friend’s relationship unravel, Jack relishes the newfound motivation for self-improvement that comes with finding that special someone. He learns to cook – taking culinary tips from Lucy’s former piece on the side – and agrees to let Clyde help him find his water wings ahead of a sailing date with Connie.

With the rhythmic lilt of his favourite reggae track, The Melodians’ ‘Rivers of Babylon’ (quirk rating+10),stuckoninfiniterepeat,Jack systematically moulds himself into a better man.

As well as being overbearingly idiosyncratic, these sequences mark Jack Goes Boating as yet another overstretched thumb-twiddler obsessed with romanticising the plight of the everyman. At its best, independent cinema has the ability to provoke thought and stir emotions in a manner often beyond the grasp of the mainstream. This isn’t indie at its worst, but haters of pedestrian relationship drama, however sincere, certainly won’t be swayed.

Hoffman the director is never out of his depth, but it’s discouraging just how laboriously he wades through the plot. Having faithfully transplanted the story from its original stage incarnation – Hoffman, Ortiz and Rubin-Vega all reprise their roles – there’s little evidence of any character nurturing. Hoffman the actor, meanwhile, is on top form, although Jack is by some stretch the most amiable, engaging protagonist in this ensemble of misfits and self-pitying spouses.

Most surprisingly, it’s Amy Ryan, the ostensible ace in the pack, who makes the slightest impact. Admittedly, there’s not a great deal for her to work with, but she’s practically unrecognisable from the powerhouse actress who stole Gone Baby Gone and sparred with Hoffman in Capote and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.

She may pull off meek-chic well enough, but her talents merit something with a bit more oomph. Instead, it’s left to Win Win director Tom McCarthy to give proceedings a shot of wryness, popping up in a cracking supporting turn as Dr Bob – Connie and Lucy’s slimy get-rich- quick scheming boss.

Had Hoffman taken a more direct cue from McCarthy’s deadpan, observational style of despairing situation comedy, Jack Goes Boating might have been worth shouting about. Still, with Pitt’s Moneyball out this month, and PTA’s The Master on the horizon, you can bet it won’t be long before we’re back singing Hoffman’s praises.

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