Jack Goes Boating
I don’t think they understand standard Marco Polo rules.

Theatrical Release Date: 09/24/2010
Director: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Ortiz, Amy Ryan, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Thomas McCarthy, Salvatore Inzerillo

It’s not uncommon for plays to be yet another source medium for feature films. The trick is whether the conversion process is able to both convey the emotional content and shed the static nature of material presented all in one space (regardless of some set changes).

Well, director/lead actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has decided that his debut calling the shots behind the camera would be just such a task with “Jack Goes Boating”. The original playwright, Robert Glaudini, also handles the screenplay duties and as such, the very intimate and raw relationship issues translate from stage to screen. However, that doesn’t mean that this adaptation fully capitalizes on its potential.

Now, the performances are good across the board. Hoffman has always been able to play awkward, melancholy and dour characters and it was a little like his role in 2002′s “Love Liza”. Amy Ryan is a remarkable actress, always able to morph herself into a different character, and this is a complete 180 from her Oscar nominated role in “Gone Baby Gone“. John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega comprise the remaining elements of the major cast, providing solid support and the more realistic portrayal of how relationships evolve.

To that end, the story is about the cycle that all couples navigate. The beginning is often sweet and full of hope, but once the honeymoon period ends, life has a way of throwing wrenches into the mix and it’s a matter of how the partnership handles those curves which dictate the relationship continuing on or coming to an end.

While I’m a fan of this idea, and can very much see the potential in this project as live theater, the end result for the film didn’t fully resonate for me. Every scene seems so directly lifted from the stage, never using any movement or space to help make conversations feel more natural and less rehearsed. And although there’s a lot to be said in silence, the number of awkward pauses became less and less endearing as the film somehow made 89 minutes feel just a tad longer.

I will credit Hoffman for some nice aesthetic touches, especially in relation to his character using visualization to calm himself down and prepare for situations he finds stressful. Aside from those scenes, however, it felt very much like they took the original blocking from the play and set up the cameras accordingly.

There are some good moments, especially between Hoffman and Ortiz as the titular ‘Jack’ is taught to swim, but overall I left feeling very much like I would have rather gone to a staged performance of the same material. That vibrancy created by live actors working without a safety net was missing, which relegates “Jack Goes Boating” to a 2.5 out of 5.