thu 23/01/2020

Boulevard | reviews, news & interviews

Boulevard

Boulevard

Robin Williams's quietly powerful farewell film shows him lunging for a lost life

Funny face? Nolan (Robin Williams) starts to unravel

Robin Williams’s final released film is built around one of his finest performances. Perhaps fittingly, it shows the quiet, melancholy side of a star who first dazzled and after a while exhausted with his manic flights and weakness for sentimentality. As Nolan, a bank employee suffocating in suburban limbo, he rarely raises his voice, remaining devastatingly true to a state of depressed repression.

Nolan has worked in the same bank branch for 25 years, and has been with his wife Joy (Kathy Baker) since they met at a Godard film in 1977. Seemingly his only friend, sardonic college professor Winston (Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk), meets him regularly for lunch, where they mildly reminisce about the people they meant to be when they were younger. There is something not quite there in Nolan as he interacts with these nice people in his nice home – the subtlest note in Williams’s performance.

BoulevardBut the ice packed around Nolan’s life is starting to crack. His mum has just died, his dad is silently heading that way in hospital, and a promotion to manage a different bank branch is suddenly offered. On the way back from a hospital visit (his only reason to leave the house at night), he impulsively U-turns, and picks up a young gay hustler, Leo (Roberto Aguire, pictured with Williams above). They go to a motel, but Nolan just wants to talk. He returns home furtively late, but his inept deceptions are immediately seen through by Joy. His robotic “Good night” when she mentions the diner where he said he was shut months ago is heavy with hopelessness.

Nolan becomes addicted to Leo, wanting affectionate, confessional, sexless relief. Showering him with money, taking him to fancy restaurants and trying to save him from the streets, he ends up punched by Leo’s sneering pimp, and humiliated by a lost boy he’s only confusing. The collision of this netherworld with Nolan’s straight life is where screenwriter Douglas Soesbe and director Dito Montiel sometimes ring false. The unravelling of the cocoon Nolan has spun around himself anyway quickens. Bloodied, dishevelled, late, chaotic, he dismays his friends as he goes against what they thought was his nature.

Montiel and Williams hoped to avoid Hollywood’s fake emphasis and phony resolutions, and they mostly succeed. Set in motel rooms, cars and a quiet, modestly tasteful house, where only the comforting murmur of Godard’s Masculin Feminin on TV disturbs the evening stillness, this is an uncommonly true film about relationships. Kathy Baker’s Joy, pictured above left with Williams, isn’t merely an impediment to Nolan realising his sexual nature, but someone he has loved, still sharing tastes and familiar intimacy. She has her own fragile needs, seeming mostly to stay in her separate bed, and isn’t much interested in the real world: “That’s why I married you.”

In Boulevard, Nolan makes one last lunge for a life he meant to live, but lost along the way. Williams' suicide soon afterwards adds to the poignancy of his character’s depression. It doesn’t overwhelm his committed performance, or the pleasure of a film which sympathetically observes everyday tragedies.

Overleaf: watch the Boulevard trailer

There is something not quite there in Nolan as he interacts with these nice people in his nice home - the subtlest note in Williams’s performance

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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