"Jack Goes Boating" is half a terrific movie.
The good half of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s feature directing debut is a “Marty”-esque love story about a shy New York limo driver falling for an equally timorous woman who telemarkets funeral plans.
In the title role, Hoffman is sweet in his insecurity and practically heroic in his efforts to be the man he thinks his woman deserves. He even tries to overcome his fear of water so he can take his beloved on a rowboat ride in Central Park (thus the title).
As Connie, the object of his affection, Amy Ryan beautifully conveys the neuroses of a socially inept woman who is unexpectedly desired.
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Where things get dicey is in the other half of the equation presented by screenwriter Robert Glaudini, here adapting his stage play.
Jack’s best friend is fellow driver Clyde (Jon Ortiz), who is astoundingly patient in a fraternal way, spending countless hours in a pool teaching the graceless Jack to swim. Connie works with Clyde’s wife, Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega).
The married couple have nudged Jack and Connie into each other’s arms. Ironically, as one pair is coming together, the other is falling apart. Clyde can’t overcome his sense of betrayal over Lucy’s long-ago infidelity.
He can be a super nice guy for six days, then becomes a vindictive, tortured, utterly irrational mess on the seventh.
There’s no arguing with the performances. Ortiz, Rubin-Vega and Hoffman are reprising characters they played on stage; this is nuanced acting of a high order.
But the Clyde-Lucy meltdown is so angry, sad and off-putting that it undermines the good feelings generated by the Jack-Connie romance.
Granted, life isn’t all roses and happy endings. But despite the fine acting and Hoffman’s controlled direction, I left “Jack Goes Boating” feeling vaguely cheated.
ACK GOES BOATING
* * *
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, Jon Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega
Director: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Rated: R; sexual content, drug use, language