originally published September 11, 2010
Friday began with Jack Goes Boating, the directorial debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also stars as the title character. Jack is an airport limo driver who's been the third wheel in the lives of his married friends Clyde (John Ortiz) and Lucy (Daphne Ruben-Vega) for so long that they've decided to intervene by setting him up with the mousy but receptive Connie (Amy Ryan). The movie, adapted--and, one suspects, significantly "opened up"--by Bob Glaudini from his own Off-Broadway play, casually parallels their burgeoning romance with the evaporation of Clyde and Lucy's relationship. In a fall preview on his delightful blog, Nick Davis summed up his level of anticipation for Jack Goes Boating thusly: "Loved Synecdoche but can't take much more schlub." Truer words, etc. Jack isn't just a schlub, he's the ur-schlub, a maddeningly static individual who has to be nudged into action like a soccer ball, and Hoffman lights and poses himself to look as appetizing as Grimace from the Happy Meals. I much prefer another passion project of Hoffman's, Love Liza: although it operates on the same demented frequency as Jack Goes Boating, there's a whole slew of theatrical affectations to contend with this time around. (You can eventually set your watch to Jack's nervous throat-clearing.) Ortiz is tremendously winning, though, in a bromantic role that reveals a lot more range, not to mention teeth, than Hollywood's ever given him a chance to show. Jack Goes Boating reminded one woman I spoke to of Rocky; I can see it if I squint.
I succumbed to buzz by ending the day with Mark Romanek's Danny Boyle-esque Never Let Me Go, which proved not-uncomplementary to Curling in that they're both about dead-end indoctrinations of the young. Based on the beloved (and unread-by-yours-truly) Kazuo Ishiguro novel, Never Let Me Go represents an alternative history in which genetic cloning became possible in the fifties, inspiring the government to begin breeding people to give up their organs in adulthood; the story follows a love triangle from its inception at a Hogwarts-like school for future donors to its pitiful "completion" in sterile operating rooms. Never Let Me Go represents, too, my least favourite kind of exploitation: the polite, pretentious kind that, somewhat hypocritically, plays coy with the specifics while getting off on the emotional sadism of its high concept. (The movie is three innocents placidly riding a conveyor belt to a meat-grinder.) The blue-collar filmgoer in me would not stop asking literalminded but no less valid questions Never Let Me Go is above addressing, such as why don't these motherfuckers run? At the risk of accusing the book of same, the whole thing reeks of fear of genre, and while Romanek's direction is certainly moody, it lacks the tone-poem quality that might've transformed evasion into evocation. Credit where credit is due, the kid they cast as young Carey Mulligan (one Isobel Meikle-Small) looks so much like a shrunken version of her that it's actually topical, but my final recommendation is to watch Seconds or Blade Runner again instead.
JACK GOES BOATING: **/****
NEVER LET ME GO: */****