Why I Love Jack Goes Boating
"Don't worry, I'm a good swimmer." "I knew you'd be good." "I am for you."
Jack Goes Boating is my favourite Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie and performance. It is a story about how small changes make all the difference. It follows Jack who can't swim, always putting it off until another day. When he meets Connie, she tells him that she would love to go boating. To make sure he can protect her, his friend Clyde teaches him how to swim. I love how Jack Goes Boating takes such a small and seemingly insignificant thing and makes it appear all important. It is not an epic, or a grand tale, it is about the small things in life and how they can take a life poorly led and make it into something meaningful.
Jack Goes Boating is immensely romantic and funny. It is well observed and on point. We are taken through two relationships, one beginning and one ending. We see the poison of jealousy and mistrust and the dark places that people go in pursuit of petty revenge. We also see how one love can transform a life in a way that will last forever. I find the movie to be a touching story and something that gives me hope as I blunder around in my life, looking for someone to share my heart with. Anyone who likes this movie should by all rights, like old Muggins here. As I am, like Jack just trying to do my best with what little means I have available to me.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman is all things considered, the best actor of his generation, up there with other greats like Nicolas Cage and Robert DeNiro. Jack Goes Boating was his first, and unfortunately, last directing job. He creates a small movie with a big heart. There is so much to love about the way he put this movie together. Everything comes with a light touch. It is believable and true to the characters, from start to finish. His performance is not as extreme as say The Master or Happiness, but it is just as complex, just as filled with subtle touches. Take the scene where Connie explains to Jack why she can't invite him upstairs. First listen to the gorgeous music, Peace Piece by the great Bill Evans, and how perfectly it plays alongside the scene. Then take a look at his face when he says "I'm really glad you're better," and Connie replies, "Almost, I'm getting there." "Maybe a little good night kiss?" "Maybe." "You know, nothing overwhelming." It is delivered with such longing and hope. He knows who Jack is inside and out. He knows every little detail that makes him who he is.
Amy Ryan is one of my favourite actors, and she plays a blinder here. She is so gentle, so kind hearted and she plays Connie's challenges with a grace and poetry that is hard to find. That she can stand behind Hoffman and not appear small in comparison is a sign of her unusual gift. When she is attacked, and still manages to close a deal in her job, she expresses such wonderful defiance of those who doubt her ability. She is made to feel afraid for her safety and yet doesn't quit. She tells Jack that she wants to make love but can't bring herself to do it because she is still full of fear. This scene where she tells Jack to overpower and seduce her could have been kind of creepy, but here it is just damned beautiful. One person helping another out of fear and into joy. Take my hand and I'll lead the way. This is what lovers and partners should do for one another.
I relate very much to Jack Goes Boating. I too cannot swim and spent some time a while back with my father learning the basics. To let yourself go in the water is a scary ordeal but something that I feel made me stronger than I was before. It is the little things that can change a life. If you are able to conquer your fear once, why not again? I am afraid of life, really, but I remind myself that I can accomplish things, even if they appear inconsequential to others who lead their lives in grand gestures. When you're out there in the water, and you feel it hold you up like a parent, it is a miraculous thing. Those who float in life, are those who will get what they need. Jack Goes Boating is about what it takes to float, to find that person who can repair the damage that comes from being alive.
I love how Jack Goes Boating deals in achievable goals, and how you never can tell when that person will arrive in your life. Don't give up hope. Keep on going. When you least expect it, that special sort will drop in on you and you better be ready to receive them. Treat yourself with kindness and acceptance, and you will be able to treat others the same way. I find this to be the message to take from the movie. You are not so different from others who have had more success. Don't put yourself down. Let another lift you up. If you have a love for Philip Seymour Hoffman or Amy Ryan, please give this movie a watch. It will not disappoint. It is a great shame that we never got to see another directing job from him. It is a gorgeous film.