Monday, May 5, 2014

Jack went boating

As a rule, my fave flicks turn out to have been based on novels or plays. In the beginning was the word, if you’ll pardon the blasphemy. "Jack Goes Boating" from 2010 succeeds on this level, a tight play by Rob Glaudini adapted as a small film. It presents big issues: love and friendship amid the struggle in society.

I like the idea of Jack learning to swim. In the film it provides cinematic metaphor. Jack, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also directed,  must strip himself of all his defenses, including his knit cap, which he clings to like a child its blanket. At the mercy of his friend, he is urged presciently to open his eyes and visualize himself under water. 

Jack is a pudgy plodder. He demonstrates a circumspect ability. He is a kind of Everyman. No Michael Phelps in the pool, no Bobby Flay in the kitchen, no Casanova in the bedroom, he forever lags yet manages to improve by dint of repetition and ardent "visualization."

Even so, Jack has difficulty making anything work. He is a slow learner in a fast-paced environment. Turns out this handicap predisposes Jack to the patience which the abused Connie needs. I love Amy Ryan as Connie. She gives her character a childlike fragility which gradually transforms into beauty as she is forced to find her steely inner self. Meanwhile, Clyde's very capacity for forgiveness is what infuriates Lucy and enables her infidelities.

As Jack and Connie gradually come together as a couple, Clyde (John Ortiz) and Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) are cracking beneath the stress of their relationship. The dinner party is like the point people pass each other on a stairs, one couple going up, the other headed for the cellar.

The scenes of Jack rowing Connie around the lake in Central Park are meant to show us this is as good as it gets. By Hollywood standards, a modest payoff to be sure. Jack gets the MTA job, apparently surviving his earlier insult to the job’s gatekeeper. Still, notice the cramped room full of small desks where he has orientation. He may be moving on up, but his success is limited and the struggle ongoing.

The film is a study in ambiguity and ends on that note. Will Jack hit a wall in his relationship with Connie? Or will her guidance make it work?

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