Jack Goes Boating is Philip Seymour Hoffman's movie—it's his directorial debut; he stars as its namesake sad sack; he wears his hair in those terrible dreadlocks that he covered with a big woollen hat at the Oscars last spring—but let's talk about John Ortiz instead. Yes, Hoffman is the famous face of Jack—just as he was at New York's LAByrinth Theater, which he co-directed for many years with Ortiz, making it a downtown incubator for sprawling, poetic drama—but Ortiz, who plays Jack's best friend, Clyde, is the film's urgent, beating heart. Clyde drives for the same limo company as Jack, and as the grown-up of the pair—he's in a long-term relationship with Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) and taking night classes—he has set himself to bettering Jack's life. He finds Jack a girl, prickly mortuary assistant Connie (Amy Ryan); arranges for cooking lessons; teaches him to swim. If it accomplished nothing else, Jack would be worthwhile just as the calling card that gets Ortiz better film roles. Luckily, there's plenty else to appreciate, starting with the movie's three other leads. Connie, as written by Bob Glaudini (who adapted his own LAByrinth play), is a bundle of neuroses, but Ryan makes her recognizable and worthy of Jack's devotion. Rubin-Vega—another theater vet—finds the roots of Lucy's ongoing exasperation with Clyde. And Hoffman is Hoffman, which is to say he's great. Not to mention that he transfers to film his theater company's ethos of an ensemble performing with ruthless honesty encouragingly well.
Stage pro Ryan radiates her usual integrity.
Opens at Harvard Exit, Fri., Sept. 24. Rated R. 91 minutes.