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Movie Review of the Week: “Boulevard”

Movie Review of the Week: “Boulevard”
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By Alison Bailes

I would like to report that Robin Williams’ last film (on screen at least…he has a voice part in the upcoming “Absolutely Anything”) is as exuberant and brilliant as the late comedian/actor. But “Boulevard” is a rather subdued, morose film, that unintentionally at least, merely reminds us of the Oscar winner’s hidden dark side.

Perhaps the premise of “Boulevard” was what drew the actor in. He plays Nolan Mack, a sixty-ish, dutiful husband to Joy (Kathy Baker) with a numbingly dull job in a bank. Nolan has lived a quiet life of commitment and compromise. He married Joy knowing deep down that he was gay, but wanting to go the socially acceptable route. Perhaps Joy has always known, but it is unspoken between them, their only concession being the fact that they now sleep in separate bedrooms. They love each other deeply and have become good friends with a comfortable lifestyle, despite the lack of sexual passion.

With a promotion on the horizon and his father near death in a nursing home, Nolan’s routine is rocked. Perhaps fear of change causes him to veer off course, picking up a young hustler Leo (Roberto Aguire) cruising the streets. It’s not clear whether Nolan has done this before or not. But this time, the young man has a profound effect on him.  Nolan doesn’t seem to want sex, but he wants to help the boy. He pays to spend time with him and even asks his best friend (Bob Odenkirk) to help fix the kid up with a job.

Saving a young soul from prostitution has been fertile ground for cinema, although it is usually a male attempting to rescue a young woman. The role reversal here is interesting and throws more subtext into the work. Is Nolan a saintly do-gooder or is he indirectly trying to save himself? Having denied himself a life as a homosexual, he now seems determined to give Leo the chance to live an openly gay life outside of the shackles of demeaning sex work.

As in “One Hour Photo” and “Good Will Hunting”, Williams is very capable of turning off the manic and playing a decent but sad man. Here he imbues Nolan with a lifetime of regret, and speaks volumes with his woeful eyes and deliberate manner. It’s a solid, well-calibrated performance in a film that unfortunately only seems to have one speed. The director Dito Montiel made the jumpy, provocative “A Guide to recognizing your Saints” in 2006 but this film shows none of that energy. Despite a parking lot fight and back alley menaces, “Boulevard” is static, idling in neutral without any real dramatic pitches. Nolan’s journey doesn’t ignite the fire that we want to see. What is left is a deeply felt performance by Williams, playing a man who puts on a show every day and hides the pain beneath his everyday demeanor. It’s impossible to watch and not speculate as to why the film spoke to him.





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