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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jack Goes Boating

Most of the reviews of the movie have been mixed. I kind of understand why after seeing it today. Its origin as a modest 4-person play shows in the movie version, and the director, PSH himself, decided not to "movie-fy" it too much with dazzling camera work and a lot of locations, with one exception --- a scene in which John Ortiz has a brief moment in the grand Astoria-Waldorf hotel. And it was an illuminating and effective scene, I would say.

Back to the public gripes. I can understand that a viewer, especially a critic, might feel the characterizations are a bit "cropped," confined, incomplete, for the Ortiz & Daphne Rubin-Vega characters. All 3 of them, Ortiz, Rubin-Vega, and PSH were in the original cast of the play. The last one, Jack's love interest Connie, is now played by Amy Ryan. It's a rather unambitious play that chooses not to dig too deep or too far into the roots of the characters' psychology. Yet, I have to point out, the observations are sharp and uncompromising.

OK, whatever, mixed reviews, flaws, modest setup, etc. Here is what happened to me.


Before I left home for the movie theater, I looked up the metro web site and found that the trains were delayed by maintenance work. With some guilt I decided to drive. It turned out to be a fortunate decision.

I had expected to cry a little during the movie, but actually it was not too bad. The movie has quite a bit of hard edges and PSH did not go soft, either, in his first directing effort. I wept a bit, twice, but that was it. It ended. I slipped into another screen to watch "Catfish," rather enjoyed it, and walked out of there at 4 pm. I started driving home. Then I thought back on "Jack Goes Boating," and suddenly began sobbing violently in the car. I sobbed for a good 10 minutes with eyes fixed on the road and tears pouring down my face.

No, no, I don't think this is because I love PSH, although I do love him. Or perhaps it is because I love him, because I feel like I know him a little, and the movie seems so intimately and honestly close to the person I think he is. Like his acting, his directing is subtle, delicate, and introverted.

Is Jack PSH himself? No, not really. Jack is not portrayed as a shy, cute, entirely harmless and perfectly affable stuffed Koala bear. Actually, every character in the play carries certain unexplained shadows behind their eyes. PHS did not make Jack instantly lovable to win us over. This is not his sob story. At first he seems pathetic and --- perhaps the worst quality as a supposed romantic lead character --- incurably inarticulate. Besides a few grunts of "yeah" and an annoying throat-clearing tic, he hardly said anything. Of course, we all know that PSH is able to convey the tiniest emotional flutter with a twitch or a look --- and he certainly did. Still, for most of the movie I didn't *like* this character as much as I had expected. The writer made very little effort to manipulate us and push our pity buttons for any of them. And yet, hours after the movie, a wave of pity --- or perhaps empathy --- crashed in my face.

In many scenes, PSH would sit quietly in a corner, looking at others speaking or fighting. The expression on his face I immediately recognized, because I know people like that --- like Jack, while I suspect PSH himself is not so different either. They are extremely sensitive to the emotional state of others around them. They cannot help but tune into "the vibe" around them. The misery of another person within close proximity shoots a dose of pain in their vein. They can't bear the endless shocks of dread, anguish, hurt, and sadness permeating from people around them, so they shut down and barricade themselves to protect their peace and sanity. They need very gentle handling. This is an element that, I am sure, few if any critic picked up on.

Then, of course, there was also a few delicious 肚腩 shots for me to indulge in.

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