Jack Goes Boating (2010), directed by the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, is an understated affair. Based on a successful play of the same name and starring the same actors, this story about ‘loser potheads looking for love’ will either charm you into its saccharine kitchen-sink-like sweetness or will make you want to turn it off after its first five minutes.
But should you decide to commit to it, here is what you can expect:
- A film that is impeccably shot and edited in the vein of Sundance indie dramas
- Engrossing performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman and the rest of the cast
- Off-kilter characters in a story that teeters between irrelevant cliché and total absurdity
The story is structured around two couples:
- Clyde & Lucy: a black couple who have been together for a long time. As Clyde says “Being in a long-term relationship, you take a few hits.”
- Jack & Connie: Set up by Clyde & Lucy, the story follows their unfolding romance.
First off, Jack (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an eccentric. Pushing forty years of age, living in his uncle’s basement, he is an Irish-American obsessed with reggae music who is growing dreads on his balding blond mop. He looks ridiculous. But you have to pity him, and Clyde (played with endearing bravado by Juan Ortiz) does just that. They work together driving Gypsy cabs around New York. They are ‘friends’, but almost inadvertently. A passive Jack allows the manipulative Clyde to take up all the space in his life.
But something weighs heavily on Clyde’s soul. The main problem in his life is his wounded ego because of the past infidelities of his wife, Lucy. Clyde & Lucy’s matching of Jack with Connie is a desperate attempt to escape the recurring frustrations of their own failed marriage. Here is a broken symmetry: Clyde & Lucy whose relationship is nearing its end, and Jack & Connie who are in the throes of first love. One is adventure and discovery (Jack & Connie), the other is paranoid thoughts and escape through drugs (Clyde & Lucy).
In this story, nobody really knows each other. The time they spend together is merely circumstance, yet they imbue it with value through emotion. Clyde repeatedly informs Jack that he ‘loves’ him, but is it authentic, or a strategy for control? Jack needs Clyde to teach him how to swim or to refer him a Waldorf Chef to learn how to cook, but is it necessary to abstract this time spent together into friendship, or love? Isn’t the pursuit of meaning in the end, nothing but absurd?
Jack & Connie
Providing a necessary counterpoint to Clyde & Lucy’s doomed lovers scenario is Jack & Connie’s awkward attempt to get to know each other. Their interactions are riddled with absurd non-sequiturs, and a subdued urge for sex. Connie who is as horny as can be (but hides it very well) constantly imagines she is being harassed by co-workers or strangers in the street. During her introductory scene she recounts an absurdly tragic story about an old man coming out of a coma, supposedly compelled by the need to care for his blind wife, only to fall down the stairs, hit his head, and die. When Jack visits her in the hospital after she has allegedly been attacked, he lends her his headphones and she lies on the bed, high on medication, listening to Jack’s reggae tunes. Later on, when she tells Jack she is not ready for “penis insertion”, it is not that she is frigid, rather she is teaching him about foreplay, and leading to a funny sex scene without the nudity.
But Clyde’s emotional hold on Jack, as a mentor and friend finds its dissolution in the movie’s final dinner scene. Both couples gather for a dinner party—the culmination of Jack’s cooking lessons and his first official date with Connie. On Lucy’s initiative they begin to smoke ‘black hashish’ out of a communal hookah. During this state of stoned aloofness the storylines reach their final conclusion: Lucy leaves Clyde, then no longer under the watchful eye of the dominant couple Jack and Connie are free to perform for each other only (and they do that precisely using conversation projectively to enact the future).
Now let’s say for a second that we live in a world where Philip Seymour Hoffman is an unknown and we never heard of his name before or any of his actor friends. But we know New York City, from other movies, from having been there. Now we have to watch him and these other fools do things around each other and behave in a certain way.
Why does this Cuban looking man not even speak a word of Spanish during the entire film? Is he really Cuban? There are times when Juan Ortiz looks like a light-skinned black man that might be a morning TV anchor locally. At other times he looks like a white guy with rounded features. Biracial. Could this be a new ethnicity? An Obama-ish new representation of blackness.
And what ethnicity is Philip Seymour Hoffman supposed to be? An Irish Jew?
Isn’t it fucked up that this fake Black guy is friends with this midget-looking Irish Jew who wants to be a Rasta and grow dreads? The white girl who likes him has the audacity and bad taste to call him sexy. “It’s not that I don’t think you’re sexy… You are.” Bitch, is you blind? He looks like an albino beached whale. Those scenes in the pool? Did you see the shape of his body? The ample deformity.
Speaking of this white girl, she has a hot body but her face is fucked up. She has one of those cartoon smiles with big teeth like a caricature. She’s a total slut too, but likes foreplay more than the d. She’s definitely a repressed lesbian. Hoffman acts like a male lesbian anyway, but gets the vibe all wrong. He pulls a physical and tries for obese method acting/secret junky.
Now Lucy, Clyde’s promiscuous wife is the smartest of them all. She fucked all those other guys that were better than her loser husband until she found a fucking doctor. Now she is set for life. She leaves behind this small world of weed smoking retards with conceptual interracial relationships. Plus she has a badass black hashish connection (also known as Afghan hash on the streets). Her new husband is an ugly white guy but he’s got money. Plus she can still fuck whoever she wants as long as he doesn’t find out. She is not overly emotionally involved with herself, and is able to place her desired reality in front of her. She is getting ahead and living it up. Her life is tactical and risky. She is material for a better movie beyond any of the other characters. The real creative life is in seduction. Every real smart person knows that.
All that these losers do is whine and make movies about their complicated loser souls. They get paid for it because they fall in with certain people and follow established guidelines. But a lot of them are clueless as fuck. They exist as fronts, decoys, for the people with money that are really smart and use part of that money to dumb you down. This movie itself is the product of a dumbing down campaign. The secret guideline is to dilute identity, especially ethnic identity. Everyone who knows about the media knows this. The agenda is obvious, Obama was a milestone. The technique is to blend contexts, and confound identities.
That’s why this story about a black couple who mentors a white couple seems strange and allegorical. Mainstream society is undergoing a similar kind of mentoring at the moment. The popularity of rap music, Obama and his impromptu musical performances— a customized idea of Black culture is being peddled across the map. White guys want to be Rasta. Black guys don’t even listen to reggae. Everything is backwards and makes no sense. Dilution of ethnicity, loss of coherence.