In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb wildlife

Wildlife

One never senses judgment from Dano, Kazan, Gyllenhaal, or Mulligan—they recognize that there’s beauty even in the mistakes we make in life. It’s what makes…

Thumb halloween poster

Halloween

Do you know the biggest sin of the new Halloween? It’s just not scary. And that’s one thing you could never say about the original.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

Reviews

Jack Goes Boating

Jack Goes Boating Movie Review
  |  

Philip Seymour Hoffman has a gift for playing quickly embarrassed men who fear rejection. He can convey such vulnerability in some roles that we're on his side without the script needing to persuade us. We want to finish his sentences, clap him on the back, cheer him up. In other roles, such as "Synecdoche, New York," he projects enough ego to enforce his will for years on end. There's an actor for you.

In "Jack Goes Boating," Hoffman is not only the star but the director. He is merciless in using himself as an actor. His face is often seen in close-up, sweaty, splotchy, red as if he suffers from rosacea. He seems to be perpetually blushing. In life, Hoffman's skin is perfectly normal; not every actor would stand for this, but vanity is not one of Hoffman's sins.

Advertisement

In the movie, he plays a limousine driver for a company owned by his uncle, which gives us an idea of his stature in the family. At dawn, he meets for coffee with his best friend, Clyde (John Ortiz), and they sit in a parked limo and regard the unattainable towers of Manhattan. Jack is clueless. Clyde is effortless. Even in their 40s, they have a student-teacher relationship. Clyde is going to teach Jack how to chat up a girl, make himself likable, swim, row a boat, even eventually cook a meal for her — which may be asking for too much.

Clyde is married to Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). She works in a funeral home with Connie (Amy Ryan). Connie is the kind of person who you'd describe as sweet, but terribly shy. Clyde and Lucy decide these two people belong with each other perhaps by default because they appear to belong with nobody else.

This leads into a dinner that reminds me a little of Mike Leigh's "Abigail's Party," in the sense that the wrong people are in the wrong room at the wrong time, and social embarrassment is the main course. The movie is based on an Off-Broadway play by Bob Glaudini, which Hoffman and Ortiz produced and acted in with Rubin-Vega. It has a touch of Leigh and more than a touch of kitchen-sink drama; its stage origins are suggested by the way Clyde lives in a flat where the kitchen, dining area and the living area are essentially one space — that works beautifully when his dinner for Connie goes wrong, as it must.

It's expected in a four-character play that all four characters will come into play, and they do, in an unexpected way. The interplay between Clyde and Connie is awkward and initially promising, but it's clear they have a lot of shyness to overcome in catching up to Jack and Lucy. Still, even happy marriages have their secrets.

You can sense the familiarity the actors have with their roles, but there's not the sense they've been this way before. What has traveled this path is the screenplay, which follows a familiar pattern and is essentially redeemed by the meticulous performances. The actors make it new and poignant, and avoid going over the top in the story's limited psychic and physical space. Even at their highest pitch, the emotions of these characters come from hearts long worn down by the troubles we see.

Advertisement

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Netflix’s Terrifying, Moving The Haunting of Hill House is Essential Viewing

A review of Mike Flanagan's new horror series based on the Shirley Jackson novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

Always Leave 'Em Laughing: Peter Bogdanovich on Buster Keaton, superheroes, television, and the effect of time on movies

Peter Bogdanovich, film historian and filmmaker, talks about Buster Keaton, the subject of his new documentary.

"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" Gets the Deluxe Treatment from Criterion

An epic essay on an epic comedy of the 1960s, now given deluxe treatment on Blu-ray and DVD by Criterion.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus