Philip Seymour Hoffman is a terrific, obsessive actor—and, unfortunately, it seems that most every terrifically obsessive actor has at least one of those strained studies of the miseries of the supposed everyman in them. In this case, Hoffman is Jack, a chubby, terminally alone sadsack who drives a limo for his uncle. Jack’s only two friends, from what we can gather, are Clyde (John Ortiz) and Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega), an attractive couple plagued with uncertainty and worries of their own. Clyde, a limo driver as well, aspires to a business degree that no one believes he’ll get, while Lucy is understandably struggling with a life that has somehow come to revolve around three of the drabbest, least ambitious people in New York City. The third is Connie (Amy Ryan), Lucy’s co-worker, who is wrestling with potential past abuse and accompanying self-confidence issues that are undermining her performance in what is essentially a sales position.
Jack Goes Boating is a series of redundant moments where characters defined by one consciously symbolic tick or two stew in one another’s misery. Jack is learning to swim so he can go boating with Connie come summer; throw in an unconvincing affection for reggae and you have the entire character. Clyde goes to business school and doubts his girlfriend’s fidelity. Lucy is the sexy one who resents Clyde’s stasis. Connie has a propensity for attracting sexually inappropriate overtures that you assume the film will eventually reveal to be delusional, though it never does. Directed by Hoffman, Jack Goes Boating is suffocated by traditionally theatrical over-writing that accidentally condescends to the audience in the implied assumption that all New Yorkers who aren’t acclaimed theater actors lead cramped, compromised, aggressively dull lives. Upon first meeting Jack, Connie quietly launches into an overview of her more pressing familial miseries that’s so ridiculously contrived to be awful that you wait for the joke that she’s just screwing with him to come. But it never does.
Fiction concerned with the depressed is admittedly difficult because depression is boring from an outsider’s perspective, as the depressed normally find themselves in redundantly damaging rhythms with which they struggle to find a means of extrication. The material needs a sense of authorial distance and comment that strives for more than merely documenting—and wallowing in—said depression. Jack Goes Boating courts integrity so intently that it predictably assumes that we should find these characters interesting simply because they’re losers, and because they stand for something broader in the human condition. But they’re inescapably devices; these lost souls are variations of the beyond-old Marty shtick. Even the John Candy movie Only the Lonely, itself a Marty variation, was more convincing, and was mercifully less interested in “art.”
His co-stars’ obvious affection and respect for him allows for a certain unintended pathos, but Hoffman’s deliberate suppression of his considerable life force as a performer is almost offensive. Of the actors, Rubin-Vega acquits herself the best, as she has the one motivation that makes tangible common sense: She wants out.
A fine transfer of a deliberately self-effacing film of muted browns, blues, and grays. The sound is also adequate if unremarkable.
There are two slim deleted scenes that compromise maybe two minutes of screen time altogether. The featurettes are disappointingly shallow promotional spots clearly designed to play in between other television programs. There is also a trailer.
An okay presentation of an actor's workshop masquerading as a movie.