Old (Dreadlocked) Man and the Sea

Stories about social misfits finding love are hardly revolutionary, but “Jack Goes Boating” manages to captivate through its complex look at couples doing what they can to make their relationships work.

The film, an adaptation of a play by Bob Glaudini, is long-time theater director and actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut. Hoffman, along with talented Broadway actors John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega, reprises his role from the original play as Jack — a meek, reggae-loving, dreadlocked man whose love life is practically non-existent.

So when his best friend Clyde (Ortiz) and his wife Lucy (Rubin-Vega) set Jack on a blind date with Lucy’s equally shy co-worker Connie (newcomer Amy Ryan), they start an uneasy, socially awkward relationship. Following some troubles of her own, Connie is uncomfortable being very “intimate” with Jack, despite their feelings for each other.

Jack, eager to please Connie, jumps at her mention that she’d like to go boating, and makes plans to go six months in advance, though he doesn’t know how to swim.  Clyde offers to help, teaching Jack how to doggy paddle at the local YMCA. Jack’s path for self-confidence is mirrored by the other occupants of the pool, among them a legless old man, and the shots in these swimming scenes — taking place both above and below the water — stand out as some of the most beautiful of the film.

Hoffman is a subtle director, preferring to use little bits of character development to push the story along instead of long, emotional monologues (save for an over-dramatic climax that feels out of place among the calm tone of the film). And his acting proves effective as well. While shopping for a gift for Connie, Hoffman’s Jack somehow exudes humor without making a sound, proving how effortless his performance is.

In addition, Ortiz is both confident and vulnerable throughout the film. When he confides some of his personal insecurities to Jack, he’s able to make a quick jump from tears to a smile feel believable.

Some aspects, however, don’t work as well. The transition from theater to screen isn’t entirely seamless. The way the climax is staged feels as if it were created for theater, where each actor’s actions are seen consecutively, rather than individually dissected.

Hoffman does take some good advantages out of his new medium. His use of montage and slow motion feels more original than cliché — a good sign from a first-time director. And he should be commended for his editing. With a 90-minute running time, the film moves quickly and keeps each scene and the characters from dragging on for too long. All-in-all, “Jack Goes Boating” doesn’t bring anything entirely groundbreaking to the table, but it is a more than competent debut from a new actor turned director.

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