Philip Seymour Hoffman takes the lead role in Jack Goes Boating, which is also the first movie that he has directed. There are just four central characters – Jack (played by Hoffman) and his good friend Clyde (John Ortiz), who both drive limos for Jack's uncle; and Clyde's wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) and her office work colleague Connie (Amy Ryan). Jack is 45, is emotionally immature, and has probably only had two brief relationships in his life ('tops', says Hoffman the director), and Connie seems a very wounded animal, although apparently a number of women have seen her as a just about average middle-aged single female New Yorker.
The plot revolves around Jack's 'parents' Clyde and Lucy (although all four are about the same age) devising a plan to bring Jack and Connie together, although their task would be far easier if their friends carried less psychological clutter. Plus, Jack learns that Connie wants to go boating, and then promises to cook her a meal. As he can't swim or cook, Clyde arranges the cooking lessons and teaches him to swim himself.
Water is a strong motif throughout the movie, and it is one of the main ways that Jack undergoes a kind of baptism into greater normality. Water is in the title of his favorite song, the original 'Rivers of Babylon' by the Melodians, a Rastafarian 'positive vibe' according to Jack, with words based on a psalm in the Bible about the exiled Jews lovingly remembering their homeland. And the movie toys with the song several times, as in its use as a kind of healing device when Jack lends Connie his Walkman when she's in hospital recovering from an attack, but also ironically when Clyde throws the machine at the wall and the music gushes out over the ruins of the important dinner Jack has made – and over the ruins of Clyde and Lucy's marriage.
In the end everything's changed – in the middle of his life, Jack walks off with Lucy into an unknown future, although at least they've made the choice to risk whatever ecstasies or agonies love will bring them, as opposed to their former relatively safe but numb singledom. But – another irony – matchmaker Clyde faces midlife alone.
The movie was adapted from Bob Glaudini's 2007 off-Broadway production of the same name, although several critics also mention its resemblance to a film that's new to me – Delbert Mann's Marty (1955), which was based on Paddy Chayefsky's eponymous teleplay, and also concerns two outsiders who are clumsily groping toward a hitherto far distant vision of togetherness.
I was drawn to the similarity of the title to Jacques Rivettes's 1974 classic Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Céline and Julie Go Boating), which may or may not be intentional.* Is it stretching things a bit if I draw an inverse analogy between Céline and Julie's eating the magic candy leading to a Proustian epiphany, and the foursome's sucking on a hookah and inducing memory loss? Probably, but it's a fun idea.
This movie deserved far more, er, 'positive vibes' from the critics. (There are few lovely songs from The Fleet Foxes too.)
*Purely as an additional point of interest, the imaginary 7 bis, rue du Nadir-aux-Pommes in Céline and Julie Go Boating seems to have become as cultish an address as the also imaginary 11 rue Simon-Crubellier in George Perec's novel La Vie, mode d'emploi (Life: A User's Manual).