Review: Robin Williams as a Hustler-Hiring Husband in ‘Boulevard’


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Robin Williams in “Boulevard.”

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Starz Digital Media

In “Boulevard,” billed as Robin Williams’s final on-screen performance, the twinkle in his eye had faded into a dead stare. The mischievous, manic clown, beckoning us to follow him to a comic three-ring circus, has shriveled to an unreadable automaton with cringing body language. This isn’t the first movie in which Mr. Williams played dark and shrouded. His character in “One Hour Photo” (2002) was a creepy smiling psychopath.

Nolan Mack, his alter ego in “Boulevard,” is a benign but pathetic milquetoast who goes through the motions of a comfortable middle-class life without enthusiasm. A 60-year-old bank officer in an unidentified city (the movie was filmed in Nashville), who has held the same job for 26 years, he may be the loneliest man Mr. Williams ever played. Under his bland exterior, he is emotionally curled into a fetal position. The performance is so convincing that you can’t help wondering to what degree Nolan resembles the more somber Robin Williams, who died in August.

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Trailer: ‘Boulevard’

A preview of the film.


By Starz Digital Media on Publish Date June 20, 2015.


Photo by Internet Video Archive.

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Nolan has a childless marriage to Joy (Kathy Baker) in which they exchange polite endearments but share little intimacy. Nolan does most of the cooking, while they share the housework. They sleep in separate rooms, but on the rare occasions they share a bed he only holds her protectively; there is no suggestion of sex. Nolan’s best friend, Winston (Bob Odenkirk), is a college professor. During a dinner party, the conversation tends toward dry literary chitchat.

Nolan regularly visits his depressed, dying father at a retirement home. Returning after a visit one evening, Nolan impulsively changes direction and finds himself in a neighborhood frequented by male hustlers. A thin, scruffy young man approaches Nolan’s car and asks if he would like to go for a ride, and Nolan agrees. It is the beginning of a connection that uproots Nolan’s life.

“Boulevard,” directed by Dito Montiel (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”) from a screenplay by Douglas Soesbe, resists every cliché you might expect it to embrace. It isn’t the story of a repressed homosexual belatedly coming to terms with his sexuality, nor is it the treacly sob story of a lost boy’s redemption by a kind older man. At the same time, it isn’t especially well directed or incisively written, and its ending is frustratingly vague. The main attraction is Mr. Williams’s relentlessly dour performance.

The suspicious, guarded hustler, Leo (Roberto Aguire), can’t understand why Nolan turns down the opportunity for sex or insists on paying extra for chaste companionship that amounts to little more than spending awkward time together at a motel. Leo, a dead-eyed street kid, elicits the kind of sympathy that an abused animal does. Neither handsome nor smart and not even charming, he works for a pimp who slaps him around.

Nolan is about to drive home from one of their sexless dates when he sees Leo being attacked and is rewarded with a conspicuous black eye. Later, the pimp accompanies Leo to the bank where Nolan works and demands that Nolan make a large withdrawal from an ATM. Nolan resists, and there is a scuffle that brings the police.

The dramatic turning points are several anguished confrontations. Visiting his father, Nolan spills his secret and recalls the exact moment when he realized he was gay. The father, who is either too sick to respond or disgusted by Nolan’s outburst, turns his head away.

Leo shows tentative signs of warming to Nolan’s affection, but he is so broken that he eventually recoils from Nolan’s kindness and generosity. When Joy bitterly vents her frustration and anger, there is no cathartic resolution.

As truthful as it is, “Boulevard” conveys little insight into characters who are believable and well acted but incapable of change. The movie is an unrelievedly depressing illustration of Henry David Thoreau’s observation that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

“Boulevard” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for language and sexual content.



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