It is worth wondering if this film would’ve been a blip on the radar had the pre-existing circumstances not happened or if we would really be keyed in on the work that its lead actor, Robin Williams, did in this movie had his untimely death not happened almost a year ago. But we are here — and in this state — and because of that, a careful examination of Boulevard is critical.
And while this isn’t a great work of film (the script wants to hand you too much) with tolerable acting around Williams (Aguire, Odenkirk, and Baker are solid), the real crux of this small movie is the story being told through the performance of WIlliams — his face, his movements, and the way he presents himself is all the more interesting than what ended up on the screen.
Boulevard tells the story of Nolan Mack (Williams), a small-town man who is enjoying his quaint and quiet life alongside his wife Joy (Kathy Baker). But Nolan has held onto something for a long time now, a secret that he has known since he was 12-years-old — that he is gay. It isn’t that Nolan lives somewhere that wouldn’t be accepting of that lifestyle or that he wouldn’t be encouraged (while there are signs that his dad is disapproving), life just happened that way and Nolan is living life with a woman.
What is most interesting about this choice is that there isn’t any resentment in his decision. He loves Joy — he always has — but deep down in his heart, this wasn’t the path that he was truly meant to go. This leads him to Leo (Roberto Aguire), a male prostitute who happens across Nolan one night when the man offers him a ride.
It is clear Nolan is interested in the boy, but what Williams conveys so well is that it is never anything physical. Leo offers multiple times the services that he has grown accustom to and is thrown off when Nolan declines and just wants the company — as if his time has passed for any sort of outward relationship and his only course to rectify this is to connect with another person using the true self that he has hidden for so long.
Boulevard decides to side step and get to the point too many times. It feels like an independent movie that is screened at a small festival, which is because it is. But the real reason to see the film is for the work done by Williams. His career is varied and known for his energy for life and the spunk that he can bring to a role. But here, in Boulevard, the spunk is gone — as is the energy — and instead, it is a man who had so many demons to fight in reality looking deep into the pits of loneliness to understand why he isn’t expressing just who he deeply is.
There are those moments, usually displayed in kindness, where the WIlliams we know shows his face for a brief second, but overall, this isn’t prototypical Robin Williams — this is a man examining someone who may not of lined up completely with his own personality, but one that could feel close to his heart — a man that is hiding in plain sight.
Boulevard has its moments of greatness, but those are slim and all own by Williams in the lead role. He is reserved, quiet, contemplative, and sad but also utterly brilliant. It is easy to remember the man for Mork & Mindy, Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, or Night at the Museum, but there is such a brash honesty in this role that maybe this is the genius we are getting deprived to see.
While we would love to see that Williams smile light up again, there was so much more deeper and under the crust that showed that not only was he a A-list comedian, but he was an actor unparalleled in the sense that he could make us laugh, but also take us to our darkest places and think about what truly makes us ourselves.