One of life’s great tragedies is talent squandered. It is hard to watch Boulevard without thinking about Robin Williams’ death, which really is a great shame as this is one of his performances in which he is least like himself and indeed shows the great loss that the film and entertainment world has suffered. This is the last new cinematic release that we will see from the great actor-comedian, and we’re sure that most viewers will walk away wishing that he was given a more fitting send-off.
Williams plays Nolan, a bank worker who has been at his workplace for nearly twenty six years, is married, and generally seems unfulfilled. One night driving home from work, he impulsively picks up (after running down) Leo, a male hustler – Nolan’s burgeoning sexuality was foreshadowed in an earlier scene when his boss backhandedly berated a gay couple who were buying a house and Nolan watched on bruised. Up to this point, the film has some promise, and the silent drive to the motel is one of the film’s most immersive scenes; though this may be owed a lot to cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (Oldboy).
Nolan and Leo get to the motel, and Nolan just wants to talk. So they talk. Nolan later returns home and the seeds of strain in his marriage are sown, seemingly with pages ripped straight out of “how to build tension in a script”. Inexplicably, quickly Nolan develops strong feelings for Leo (Roberto Aguire) and tries to help him. The only explanation for this – and we suppose the explanation that is given – is that Nolan has never had an opportunity to express his sexuality and so he falls deep at the first chance that he gets. However, Leo’s only attributes appear to be that he will happily have sex, doesn’t understand why people don’t want to have sex, is selfish, and is forgetful. To add to his appeal, his supposedly intimidating pimp seems to be lifted straight out of a completely different film.
As Nolan’s wife passively looks on, all the while realising that her husband is having an affair, we also see Nolan sabotaging one of his closest friendships – with Winston (Bob Odenkirk), a college professor who has a thing for co-eds and also serves as the voice of reason in Nolan’s topsy turvy world. Melodrama ensues, with middle class passivity getting increasingly fraught, cigarettes being flushed down toilets, lunch bro dates missed, and a cruise that may never be booked (rest assured, it does eventually look like the cruise is booked) – all culminating in a fight outside the bank and obvious resolutions to the other story strands.
There was potential for Boulevard to be a much better film, and the calibre of most of the lead actors saves it from being completely unwatchable – though when the music begins dictating how we, the audience, should feel it does come perilously close. But its presentation of the key themes of homosexuality and the sex trade have been superseded by films such as Carol, Afternoon Delight, and even season one of Masters of Sex. Williams’ performance, though, is masterful, and in a film where characters seemingly have very few discernible traits, you find yourself empathising with him and even rooting for him, in spite of the lies, deception and complete absence of logic, though perhaps this is due to the emotional resonance of the actor’s real life story.
Film fans will undoubtedly leave Boulevard feeling a great sense of loss, but for reasons quite beyond those of the film itself.
Boulevard arrives in UK cinemas on Friday, April 8th, 2016.