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Sunday, January 9, 2011

JACK GOES BOATING -- DVD review by porfle

When I saw the trailer for JACK GOES BOATING (2010), I thought, "Oh, no...Philip Seymour Hoffman is aiming for our heartstrings by doing his take on the obligatory 'sweetly-retarded' character."  But it turns out that Jack is just a really repressed super-schlub who's as afraid of life as he is of the water.  And watching him learn to stay afloat in both environments turns out to be pretty entertaining.

Jack drives for his uncle's limo service but wants to better himself by applying with the Metropolitan Transit Authority.  He also wants to find romance, so his best friend and coworker Clyde sets him up with a blind date named Connie.  Connie works with Clyde's wife Lucy at a mortuary and is also trying to move up--from working with cadavers to closing business deals over the phone.  But she's on the verge of getting fired because, like Jack, she lacks assertiveness.

Connie responds to Jack because he's just as withdrawn as she is, and they set a tentative date to go boating sometime in the future when it isn't snowing.  This troubles Jack greatly since he can't swim, so Clyde offers to teach him at a local pool.  Now I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even I caught on that learning to swim is a metaphor for Jack learning to overcome his fears and live life.  While obvious, it's handled in such a nice way that the effect is uplifting.

A nice touch comes when Clyde tells Jack to close his eyes and visualize going underwater, a technique he begins to use when faced with other intimidating challenges such as learning to cook or forcing himself to enter Connie's hospital room after she's been attacked on the subway.  One of the film's most blackly humorous moments comes right after this attack, with a profusely bleeding Connie showing up for work and doggedly refusing medical aid until she closes a phone deal with a stubborn funeral director.
While all this is going on, Clyde and Lucy's efforts to help Jack with his love life inadvertently stir up long-simmering problems of their own, a situation which comes to a head during the big night in which Jack plans to cook dinner for the four of them.  As various bad vibes reach a boiling point, Jack has a startlingly violent moment which seems out of character and makes me think the film has taken a really wrong turn into awkward melodrama.  Fortunately, what I thought at first was a misstep is actually what kicks the story into high gear and makes the rest of the film click.

Hoffman is good as Jack, but the part of a big, insecure oaf isn't really much of a stretch for him.  More interesting is Amy Ryan (CHANGELING, "The Wire") as Connie.  Whether recounting the grimmest personal stories imaginable over dinner or claiming that practically every man she comes in contact with has tried to grope her, she's hilarious in a very buttoned-down way, almost without even trying to be.  Her wounded, birdlike strangeness and the way Jack responds to it with his quiet positivity make their odd courtship endearing, especially when they finally attempt to have sex.

Hoffman proves himself talented not only as an actor but as a director as well.  JACK GOES BOATING benefits from a pleasing visual style that revels in its New York locations, giving even its wintery scenes a sense of warmth, and makes the most of a terrific cast (John Ortiz as Clyde and Daphne Rubin-Vega as Lucy are both outstanding).  Robert Glaudini has done such a good job of adapting his own play that it never seems stagey and the dialogue sounds natural.  The score, including some reggae songs, works well although the piano music veers into "Mr. Rogers" territory at times. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and English and Spanish subtitles.  Extras include two very brief featurettes ("Jack's New York" and "From the Stage to the Big Screen"), a trailer, and two short deleted scenes.  One of these, Connie's encounter with an overly-friendly man on the subway, is a howler. 

JACK GOES BOATING isn't anywhere near as maudlin and pathetic as this type of story often gets, with the main character being sort of a modern-day version of Ernest Borgnine's "Marty."  I was pleasantly surprised by how everything turned out, and by how much I had warmed to this movie that I didn't think I was going to like at all.

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