Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directorial debut with a movie version of Robert Glaudini’s play, which he originally helped develop and starred in with his New York theatre company. As well as directing he plays Jack, a rather awkward middle-aged man who gets set up by his friend Clyde (John Ortiz) with his wife’s work colleague, Connie (Amy Ryan).
Connie is a rather neurotic woman, but there seems to be something between her and Jack. Very slowly the two socially maladroit people start to get closer to one another, while the problems between Clyde and his wife Lucy grow.
Jack Goes Boating is a very small scale film, with a nice line in looking at and talking about relationships. There are a lot of nice observations and you can tell this is a film made by actors, who have spent a lot of time delving into their characters and trying to find the most interesting nuances in the situation they’re dealing with. However this is also the film’s flaw, as it has many moments that may make sense to actors who’ve spent a long time overanalysing everything, but seem to come out of left-field and don’t have a huge amount of logic for the audience. It’s also apparent in Hoffman’s direction, as he tends to close in on actorly moments, while slightly ignoring how the film looks from the outside as an overall experience.
That said, for the majority of the running time it’s very watchable and rather sweet (although the literalised metaphor of Jack learning to swim is rather blatant, obvious and hammered over your head), with enough humour that it could almost be described as a quirky comedy. Things only starting to come to bits – as well as turning rather dark – at the final dinner party. As often happens when actors overthink things and nobody is on hand to pull things back, the result is a mix of subtlety bordering on invisibility and the blatant edging towards being utterly over the top.
Hoffman has the potential to be a very good director, but it feels like he could do with spending more time separating being an actor from being a director and also making his films feel slightly more like they’ve left the stage behind. There’s almost a Mike Leigh feel about Jack Goes Boating, but without Leigh’s assured eye for letting actors experiment, but then only using what feels real and makes sense to the observing eye.
It’s an interesting little film, even if it falls short from being a genuinely good one.
The special features consist of an interesting interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman, filmed at a Q&A after a UK screening. He goes into the process of how both the play and film came about, and intriguingly even he thinks that if he ever directs again he wouldn’t want to act too. There are also some interviews with other members of the cast & crew.
Overall Verdict: Philip Seymour Hoffman shows promise as a director, but he perhaps needs to learn how fully distinguish what’s needed as an actor from what’s needed as a director next time around.
Special Features: Q&A With Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cast & Crew Interviews
Reviewer: Tim Isaac