Boulevard is challenging. It is not challenging because of anything on the part of director Dito Montiel or screenwriter Douglas Soesbe. The direction and script for Robin Williams’ last film are somewhere in the vicinity of average. Nothing about either of those things is particularly awful. It’s just that Soesbe’s story of a 60-year-old man (Williams) confronting his lifetime of closeted homosexuality tries to reflect the idea that Williams’ Nolan Mack lacks focus on what he really wants. It reflects this so well, the entire story feels unfocused. Nolan’s journey has very specific points that need to be reached. The script reaches them, and then doesn’t really know what to do with anything that exists between those specific points. Dito Montiel sticks to the script, and so the entire movie feels flat in large pockets, and unfocused for what is pretty much the film’s entire duration.
With all of the above in mind, it’s hard to imagine really recommending Boulevard. At this point, the only thing that can save a movie that is potentially forgettable are the performances. This is where the movie shines, while almost sinking the unfortunate script and direction into the ground. The acting doesn’t quite get us there. Even so, at the end of the movie, you will at least be pleased with the way the actors find structure and meaning in the haphazard proceedings.
All of this brings us back to why Boulevard is challenging. At least to me, Boulevard is challenging because I left the movie thinking Robin Williams had been absolutely brilliant. In a long career that devoted a great deal of time to playing misfits desperate to find a steady heartbeat within themselves, I felt that Nolan Mack represented the best of what Williams could do. I believed that it was a textbook example of how great acting can overcome a middling script and shallow characters. As wife Joy Mack, Kathy Baker reminds us that she is one of the most underrated actresses out there. One of these days, she’ll finally get to do something that generates the kind of attention someone of her caliber deserves. She brings an impressive amount of kindness and resigned humanity to the thankless role of an unhappy, devoted wife. She generates actual sympathy, when dealing with the fact that everything she took for granted was leaving the station.
Also, if nothing else, Boulevard has some wonderful scenes with Bob Odenkirk and Williams. You wish repeatedly that the movie had more scenes of the two just bouncing conversation back and forth.
I also still believe Williams’ performance in Boulevard displays his acting gifts in good form. Having slept on the nagging, disheartening realization that I was going to a movie theater to see a new Robin Williams movie for the last time, I still want to praise his work here. However, the challenge to determine how much Williams’ death is influencing my opinion remains. Boulevard has to shoulder the distinction of being the last time Robin Williams will appear on-camera for a film.
No movie should have to live up to the standards of being the final chapter to a talent’s extraordinary career. Boulevard will not be considered a classic in five years’ time. It won’t even be considered to stand amongst the best of Robin Williams. However, purely from a career point of view, Boulevard allows us two things. It lets Williams go out on a relative high note (because let’s keep in mind that Boulevard isn’t awful, so much as it’s just very ordinary). In giving Williams one more opportunity to show us that his skills as an actor never left him, and that he was capable of bringing sincere pathos to a bland script, Boulevard also allows us to say goodbye.
It is still difficult to accept that Robin Williams is gone. That sounds a little silly, but it is hard to not agree with the people who continue to feel as though Williams’ death was like the death of a profound friend or close family member. I felt that way when I sat down to watch Boulevard. I feel that way now. As I think about this, I remember how disappointed I was with recent Williams’s films like A Merry Friggin’ Christmas and The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. Boulevard isn’t a great movie, but it didn’t drag me down like those other two did. It put a great, deeply missed actor at the center of the stage. It emphasized the notion that Williams was far better at his craft than a lot of people gave him credit for when he was alive.
You don’t have to be gay or in the closet in order to relate to the pain Williams translated so brilliantly on the screen. Williams is so good, he actually makes you forget the horrible circumstances of his passing. Still, it’s hard to shake the awareness of why Williams was so good at tapping into those feelings of loneliness, frustration, or quiet rage. Besides being a great actor, Williams clearly knew where to go in his heart to find those feelings. I will not offer any real speculation on how much Williams’ battles with depression and addiction influenced how he broke down and understood his characters. I can only say that Boulevard represents Williams’ ability to connect us to the pain of whoever he was portraying. He does this with such seemingly effortless skill, we can watch this movie, and only occasionally think about what he may have been going through at the time it was filmed. Williams could generate empathy from an audience without making us feel manipulated. He could make us think about the things that were haunting us, as well.
Let’s put it this way: Is Boulevard worth watching because it’s Robin Williams’ final performance? No. Is it worth watching for a host of good performances, particularly by Williams? Absolutely. Boulevard brings us to the end of Robin Williams’ on-screen life. It sends us away with the necessary sorrow of remembering, because of this film, how we lost an actor of exceptional range and singular spirit last year.
Thank you, Mr. Williams.
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