‘Boulevard,’ Robin Williams’ final film, cannot overcome archaic approach to sexuality

July 15, 2015, 11:19 p.m.

Many consider life in one’s 60s a dead end. Dito Montiel’s “Boulevard,” however, directly contradicts this notion, telling the story of a man who swallowed his dreams and identity, including his sexual orientation, for the vast majority of his life in order to avoid being denounced or even disowned by his loved ones. Though seemingly compelling, this tale is ultimately condemned to toil in the shadows of similar works by a lackluster script and and dated approach to sexuality.

“Boulevard” stars Robin Williams as Nolan, a melancholy banker who has worked at the same firm for over 25 years, routinely passing streetwalkers without acknowledging them on his way home to his wife, Joy (Kathy Baker). From the onset of their interactions, it is obvious that their relationship is characterized by an amicable tolerance for one other: They sleep in separate bedrooms and rarely show any form of affection for one another. One evening , however, as Nolan is driving home, he breaks from his regular routine and pulls up alongside a gang of hustlers. Minutes later he picks up Leo (Roberto Aguire), a prostitute, oblivious to the hidden meaning in a gesture like “giving him a ride.”

From this point on, Nolan and Leo develop a beautifully constructed relationship that is a mix between adoptive son-and-father relations and a timid, undecided lover’s affair. Nolan prefers an emotional connection over a physical one, simply talking and looking at Leo. Nolan cares for Leo, repeatedly making sacrifices for him and even interceding in a fight with Leo’s pimp (his reward: a black eye).

Despite the emotional depth of the interactions between Nolan and Leo, however, “Boulevard” remains disappointingly conservative in its depiction of a homosexuality. Nolan’s nonsexual attraction to Leo seems to contradict the film’s entire purpose. It’s as if Montiel is too afraid to make a movie about a sexually active gay man, an ironic fact considering the film’s narrative. Further, the lack of intimate scenes (the closest thing Nolan and Leo come to sex is an awkward hug) and purposeful, affectionate exchanges exacerbate the tedium of the plot. In fact, much of the film’s effect is lost in a sluggishly slow plot full of  depthless conversations.

Williams puts forth his best effort to capture Nolan’s journey towards liberation, but is noticeably held back by the unnecessarily drawn out plot. Over the course of the film Nolan’s sorrowful monologues slowly lose their spark, and eventually his forceful advertisements of pain become rather tiresome. It’s needless and suffocating mawkishness. Moreover, these neverending soliloquies are made even more unbearable by soporific music, and utterly flat photography devoid of angle variety and any semblance of visual depth.

That being said, “Boulevard” is not without it’s successes, minor or otherwise. Throughout the movie, Williams successfully conveys Nolan’s contradictory feelings of liberation, guilt and regret. The slow plot, while bothersome, gives time for viewers to understand William’s adversities and relate to him in terms of life regrets. The most captivating scene of the movie occurs when Joy bursts into a series of emotions ranging from bitter rancor to pleading mercy when Nolan at last admits his sexuality. His simultaneous desire to not to hurt Joy, but also to finally break free of the oppressive boundaries to which society has confined him, explodes into beautiful surges of emotion that make the tedious journey throughout the movie worth it.

The last dramatic role filmed by Robin Williams before his tragic death in August of 2014, “Boulevard” serves as an ordinary ending to an extraordinary career. Yet, though his work is wasted on a fairly simplistic narrative, Williams’ performance alone brings the film to life, easily playing to his strengths as an actor. Here Williams proves, once and for all, a singular diamond amid a bed uninteresting clutter.

Contact Pauline Lee at pauline.lee718 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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