“Are you happy?”
It’s like a sucker punch. And the chills come fast. When Robin Williams’s character Nolan Mack, a quiet and reliable banker, is asked that question by his boss, the sadness is multi-layered, the emptiness very real.
Boulevard is one of Robin William’s last big screen performances. Others include smaller parts in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and Absolutely Anything. In Dito Montiel’s film, though, he plays the (on-screen) lead, a 60-year old closeted gay man.
I just finished watching an advance screening — the indie film has distribution and will be landing on the big screen here in the San Francisco Bay Area next week. It wasn’t easy to watch, for all the wrong reasons of course.
Early on we learn Williams’ character, who enjoys cruising solo along the boulevards at nights in his bland mid-90s Mercedes, is good at keeping secrets. The first, a promotion. He doesn’t tell his wife, instead sharing the news with his good friend.
One night Nolan gives in to temptation on a late ride, and picks up a young (proverbial) male prostitute, played sympathetically well by Roberto Aguire. A (predictable) relationship ensues, and things get tricky for all involved.
Unfortunately, only in the last act, when Williams can’t take the suppression any longer, does the film come close to a boil. Finally, the stakes feel real. That cracker of a scene between Williams and his wife, played by Kathy Baker, comes after we’ve been somewhat zombified by the flatness of the tone and the seemingly directionless plot. But the wait is worth it. Some revelations are accepted, others not. Does marriage amplify reality and the world we live in, or does it create a bubble, one that accommodate imperfections? That scene alone is worthy enough of recommending this melancholy experience.
As you might expect, Robin Williams turns in another fine dramatic performance. He is so low key, and dead pan throughout that you keep trying to read his mind. Is he, the iconic thespian and world renowned ham, happy? It’s not a joyride to be sure, knowing we will miss one of the all-time greatest actors, comedians, and personalities of our time. And that knowledge juxtaposed against such a heart-wrenching (and often dimly lit) journey makes for some challenging viewing. So sad. Thankfully, the performances in Boulevard are top notch, and the film is solid enough, even if the storyline doesn’t dive as deep as we might like. Williams had a special gift for nuance, and depth. His performance here re-affirms that enormous talent. And let’s be thankful he didn’t leave us at Merry Friggin’ Christmas.
Boulevard is far from Robin Williams’ most memorable work. It’s bittersweet on auto-pilot, veering into after-school special territory occasionally, and lacking driving force. Maybe that’s the point; the confusion, and sadness of a lifetime of lies and emptiness. Fortunately, in real life, his was one of countless laughs, manic characters. And, for those of us who live in the Bay Area, also a down-to-goodness neighbor and friend to anyone who was lucky enough to cross his magical path.
“It’s the way your life goes sometimes.”
Boulevard opens in the Bay Area July 17. Look for it at the Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco, and the Shattuck in Berkeley.
Photo Courtesy of STARZ Digital.