It was only a matter of time before Philip Seymour Hoffman decided to direct. He’s gained enough credibility in the business to warrant giving him a chance. But it is slightly shocking that he chose to make his debut with a romantic comedy. Did anyone else see that coming? His film, Jack Goes Boating is an adaptation of a play by the same name. Hoffman actually played Jack in the off-Broadway production. He brought along two of his stage co-stars as well, and got Amy Ryan to play his leading lady. Not too shabby for his first cast.
The story, yes, is a romantic comedy, but not the kind you’re thinking. It is, of course, centered around Jack. He’s a quiet, mostly unremarkable man, with few friends, and even less family. The two friends he does have are Clyde (John Ortiz), and Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). They’re good friends to him, and seem to have it together. They match him up with another slightly odd acquaintance of theirs, Connie (Amy Ryan). The two start a strange romance that buds quiet nicely, while at the same time, Lucy and Clyde’s marriage is deteriorating as truths come out about infidelities and betrayals of trust.
The play is written by Bob Glaudini, and was adapted for the screen by him as well. It’s full of witty and fresh dialog and fantastic scenes. It’s an optimistic view on the joys of loving and being loved, despite all kinds of obstacles. It should come as no surprise that something this sturdy comes from Hoffman, who literally gets lost in his character. There’s not much Hoffman does that’s less than superb. While it seems, in the beginning, that the film was going to take a turn closer to the tone of Welcome to the Dollhouse, Hoffman manages to keep this story hopeful, and bright.
His direction style is confidant, and well-toned. Of course, the best part of his cast happens to be himself. At least for now, Hoffman the actor shines far brighter than Hoffman the director. The world was introduced to Ryan’s comedy during her short stint as Holly on The Office. You’ll be pleased to know that she’s just as funny here, and makes personal manias endearing, and even sexy. In one of the film’s most charming moments, she gently explains to Jack her meager expectations for their first time making love. It instantly reminds of a similar scene between Adam Sandler and Emily Watson in Punch-Drunk Love. I don’t think it’s too high of praise to compare Jack to the P.T. Anderson film. The optimism found here is refreshing, without sacrificing a charismatic, and intriguing plot.
The Blu-Ray is a bit light when it comes to extra features. The obligatory deleted scenes are present, of course. However, they’re not greatly interesting, and they don’t shed any new light on the film’s characters. We must assume, since they film only runs a trim ninety one minutes, these scenes weren’t cut for time, but cut because they are useless.
There are two short featurettes, one titled ‘Jack’s New York’, where cast and crew discuss shooting in New York in an authentic way. The other titled ‘From The Stage To The Big Screen’, which features light interviews with Hoffman and Glaudini covering the main differences between the two scripts. While there are some pearls of insight in both of these endeavors, I would have appreciated a more in depth discussion of the film, and its characters. Besides a few trailers for upcoming films thrown in for good measure, this is all the Blu-Ray offers up in the vein of special features.
W. Mott Hupfel’s gorgeous cinematography is well served by the clarity of the Blu-Ray. However, the interpersonal nature of the majority of the film’s scenes doesn’t necessarily benefit from higher definition all that much. This also applies to the audio aspects of the movie, dialog makes up the majority of all audio, with the background noises of the city sprinkled in behind.
While Jack Goes Boating leaves a bit to be desired, there are some great aspects to consider. It’s almost impossible to resist the on screen charms of this cast, and while still a rookie director, it’s interesting to see what Hoffman does behind the camera. Which makes the extras available on the Blu-Ray, while a little unsatisfying themselves, all the more intriguing. Jack Goes Boating is a smarter than average, and charming film worth taking a look at.
Hoffman provides solid direction for a first time outing, despite a few missteps and the tremendous cast is accompanied by a poignant script.