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Boulevard (A Movie Review)




Starring Robin Williams, Kathy Baker, Bob Odenkirk, Roberto Aguire, Giles Matthey, Eleonore Hendricks, J. Karen Thomas, Landon Marshall, Henry Haggard, Clay Jeffries, Brandon Hirsch, Curtis Gordon, David Ditmore and Joshua Decker.

Screenplay by Douglas Soesbe.

Directed by Dito Montiel.

Distributed by Starz Digital Media.  88 minutes.  Rated R.

Despite whatever positive and negative attributes that Boulevard may display as a film, it will forever be known as the final starring role of beloved actor and funnyman Robin Williams.  Just seeing Williams – who committed suicide late last year due to extreme depression and advancing medical problems – casts a bit of a pall on this little drama of missed life chances and repression.

However, unlike the last Williams film that was also released posthumously – the antic family comedy Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tombs – the creeping melancholy the audience feels on seeing the actor’s familiar face actually adds to the somber mood of the film.

In fact, Boulevard reminds us of what a smart and subtle dramatic actor Williams could be when he was not doing his wild comedy shtick.  This film brings back the quiet, thoughtful Williams of The World According to Garp, One Hour Photo, Insomnia or World’s Greatest Dad, not the wacky fast-talking force of nature that was his normal mode.

Williams plays Nolan Mack, a sixty-something closeted gay man.  He’s been married to Joy (Kathy Baker), a woman that he loves in a sisterly way but with whom he’s never been passionate or had kids.  They’ve long since had their own rooms, living a separate but considerate and friendly co-existence.  His best friend (Bob Odenkirk) is an aging college English professor, and their long-ago plans of exciting city lives have pretty much been abandoned.  Nolan’s mother died suddenly six months earlier and his father is bed-ridden, dying in a local care facility.  He’s worked for 26 years at the same boring bank job that he doesn’t really like, and he’s just been offered a promotion that will assure that he will be at the bank for the rest of his career.

It is in this state of life ennui that Nolan finally takes a chance to change his life.  One day while driving home, he passes a group of prostitutes lined up on a local boulevard.  You get the feeling that he has been aware of them for a long time, but never before had the courage to turn around and actually engage with them.  He drives past the female pros, eventually checking out a few guy hustlers who are there.  In a slightly obvious narrative choice, he almost hits a young hustler named Leo (Roberto Aguire) with his car.  They start to talk, and eventually a visually uncomfortable Nolan agrees to take the guy to a motel and pay him for sex.

After finally giving in to this long-denied temptation, Nolan becomes somewhat fixated on Leo, determined to save the younger man from his street life and maybe even find love.  Leo, not surprisingly, seems a lot more reserved about their relationship, though eventually he does start to feel an odd friendship and kinship with this slightly desperate older man.

I’m not going to lie, sometimes Boulevard pulls its punches in its homosexual relationship.  Nolan’s relationship with Leo is often strangely chaste, almost like a mentor/student connection.  I mean, yeah, I guess I get that after decades of suppressing his desires it could possibly be difficult to totally throw yourself into the baser aspects of a homosexual affair.  However, you have to wonder how long he will be content at just watching the younger man stand around naked in cheap hotel rooms.

Nolan’s attempt to live a double life does not go totally smoothly, eventually Nolan is getting into physical altercations with Leo’s pimp, wife Joy suspects Nolan is having an affair and his relationship with the younger man starts affecting Nolan’s job.

Much of this can be intriguing.  Some of it is a bit overdone.  However, Williams never hits a wrong note, and his performance pulls the movie through its rough spots.  In fact, the extended scene when Kathy Baker as his wife finally confronts him of having an affair with a man is spine-tingling, two truly gifted actors at the top of their games.  Scenes like this make up for whatever missteps the film sometimes makes.

It is tragic that we will never see another new performance by Robin Williams.  However, at least he left us on a strong note.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2015 All rights reserved. Posted: July 24, 2015.

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