Friday, 7 February 2014

Jack Goes Boating (2010)

Since the shocking and tragic news of last weekend much of the online community has quite rightly been satured with outpourings of grief and reviews of Philip Seymour Hoffman films. 

There's very little to hold on to and make sense of in a tragedy like this, except the one thing that is certain; Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the finest actors of his generation.

I've purposefully held off from watching him in anything all week because, though I knew I wanted too and indeed I had too, I also knew that if I watched him in anything too soon I would spend the duration of the film with only one thought in mind - that we'd never see him again. For someone who was not only consistently great but who was at a crucial stage of his career (acting and, as this film shows, directing) the notion of never seeing the fruits to come, of never seeing him in anything new again, is quite a blow.

Jack Goes Boating was my selection. Not just to pay tribute to the man  but also to watch and experience a project of his I had not seen before. It's a film that had been on my 'must check it out' radar ever since I'd seen it reviewed on BBC1's Film 2011 (as it was at the time of release) by Claudia Winkleman and Danny Leigh, both of whom spoke of it highly. Indeed Danny Leigh likened its characterisation and style to that of Mike Leigh (no relation) which immediately piqued my interest. Having watched it now, I can see where he's coming from; PSH's shy limo driver Jack, taking the faltering steps from blind date to relationship with the fabulous Amy Ryan's somewhat scatty Connie, a woman with her own intimacy issues, could easily be transported to Leigh's London and portrayed by Timothy Spall and Katrin Cartlidge say. Like Leigh's work the film could easily be dismissed as being about not very much - man meets woman, learns to swim and cook because of her, their relationship flourishes as their friends relationship dies -  but it is of course about everything; love, confidence, expectations, heart ache and the barriers and delusions we instill within ourselves just to get by, but more often than not hampering us.

I took an interesting journey watching this film. Naturally the first ten minutes were largely filled with sadness at seeing PSH and knowing this will now be his only directorial effort, and indeed this occurred at several other stages in the film too. Then after that initial emotive feeling I tried to concentrate on the film properly and where it was taking me. By about 40 minutes in, I was really struggling with it; I found it sweet, I had laughed in places - though largely it was a wry smile and soft chuckle rather than a belly laugh, it really isn't that kind of film - but I found where the film was taking me unpredictable and a little somnambulant. In short I really wasn't sure I was liking it. Then we came to what was effectively the last act, a splendid socially misfiring disaster of an intimate dinner party that really invested the film with some energy and suddenly who these characters were clicked with me and I really felt for them. I wanted Jack to do well, I wanted Connie to enjoy the meal, I wanted Clyde and Lucy (their well meaning but ultimately destructive friends played with depth by John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega) to go and leave the socially awkward, emotionally stalled couple to discover love and happiness for themselves, and from that point on until the closing credits, I really enjoyed the film and wasn't just watching it as a tribute to PSH or something to mark his passing.

I feel sure Jack Goes Boating is a film that is going to be a grower for me, no doubt increasing in rating and affection on rewatches. It's deeply moving and tender essay on coming to love late in life and with all the baggage that entails, and realising from friends that there's far more dangerous baggage in being together for too long.  Whilst never truly escaping the trappings of the stage play it is based upon has enough of a distinctive visual language to flourish as a piece of independent cinema, thanks of course to PSH's imaginative direction.  This doesn't feel like the one size fits all quirky gloss chucked at many American indie features - perhaps that's why Danny Leigh felt it fitted nicely with his namesake's work here in the UK - and it is to PSH's credit. Of course this conclusion leaves one with the sobering fact that not only will we see PSH tackle fresh acting challenges any more, we won't see him take the talents and skills he had in the director's chair for this and improve upon them in any future productions either. 

And again, I'm left with the feeling that the events of last weekend were a tragedy that will cast their shadow over the film world and film lovers for some time to come.


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