Review: In his final lead role, Robin Williams boldly underplays the timid tale of ‘Boulevard’
Repressed, fearful and painfully unhappy, the character played by Robin Williams in “Boulevard” is a modern-day Prufrock, slowly gathering the courage to disturb the universe.
As Nolan, a middle-aged banker who has never expressed his homosexuality until he becomes infatuated with a young street hustler, Williams delivers a performance of mannered, sometimes heart-wrenching restraint. But something closer to cautiousness tamps down the film.
Unlike poet T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a portrait of timidity that’s monumentally alive, director Dito Montiel’s dramatic feature is a tentative affair. Working from a screenplay by Douglas Soesbe that juggles contrivance and insight, Montiel labors to avoid sensationalizing Nolan’s story, and in the process he overcompensates.
Sharing a passionless domesticity with his wife of many years (sensitively played by Kathy Baker), Nolan puts on his nametag each morning and goes to the office. An impulse takes him down a nighttime street where male prostitutes congregate, and soon he’s pursuing a relationship of sorts with a hustler, Leo (Roberto Aguire). Nolan’s feelings are nonsexual and quasi-paternal, but mainly odd and sad.
Leo is more of a cipher than intended, and there’s no spark between these recessive characters, just as the story’s emotional perils are concocted rather than felt. With his terrifically robust turn as Nolan’s literature-professor friend, Bob Odenkirk shakes the tepid film awake, if only briefly.
A year after Williams took his life, his tormented portrayal of a man facing an empty existence has unavoidable resonance beyond the movie’s frame. “Boulevard” finds a hopeful resolution, but what lingers is the sense of a light extinguished. Williams’ last lead performance to be released suggests minor-key depth he might have brought to better films.
MPAA rating: R, for language, sexual content
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles; Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino
Only good movies
Get the Indie Focus newsletter, Mark Olsen's weekly guide to the world of cinema.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.