BOULEVARD Review – Robin Williams Gives a Master Class, Memorable, Honest Performance

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BOULEVARD, from Starz Digital and Camellia Entertainment, brings to the screen a powerful moving life drama that resonates of living truthfully and is delivered with reserved unforgettable force taking the audience on a personal journey of self-discovery.

Starring Robin Williams, in his last completed project before his death, BOULEVARD also stars Kathy Baker, Roberto Aguire, Giles Matthey, Bob Odenkirk and Eleonore Hendricks and is directed by Dito Montiel and written by Douglas Soesbe.

BOULEVARD begins with voice over as Nolan, played powerfully by Robin Williams, is talking with his father, played by Gary Gardner, who, felled by a stroke lives in an assisted living facility. A good son, Nolan, continues to visit his near death father, talking to him with affection.

The stress of caring for an aging parent seems to envelope his thoughts as he drives through the seedy neighborhood adjacent on his way to his comfortable, stable, life. On this night the sidewalks are filled with teenage or slightly older prostitutes, looking for a dollar and a date, the dream is long dead for most of them barely out of their teens.

Driven by a force he has kept sedated for 50 years, he turns the car around and window shops the whores on the avenue, until out of nowhere a boy runs into his car.

Which is where we meet Leo, played by Roberto Aguire, the avenue no longer offers only ladies of the evening and Nolan, on the verge of the rest of his life, makes the decision this is where he, looking to recapture his lost youth, begins his journey of self-awareness.

This triggers a series of clandestine meetings, the expectation and investment in a new relationship that can never work, tinder really as Nolan breaks all the rules of engagement with his young trouble-making friend and his pimp.

Williams delivers a masterful performance. I’m not praising the work because of his death, or for his children’s sake.

His performance was extremely powerful, resonating with truth so much so that it was uncomfortable. I like my Robin Williams unharnessed, as Teddy Roosevelt, or bouncing with atomic speed around the stage.

The restrained, aged, man with little to laugh about, the walking dead, trying to maintain the facade, doing the right thing which crosses all relationship issues, living in a loveless relationship, not simply the admission of sexual orientation, the hidden secret whatever it is, can only stay buried so long no matter how hard one attempts to keep it covered.

He played Nolan Mack, with authority, with knowledge. The mundane of routine, a life he loved and hated, which gnawed away at his spirit, which can be said of any person who stays, believing, hoping, and needing.

BOULEVARD also stars Kathy Baker, as Joy Mack. After 30 years of companionship that included marriage, not sexual intimacy. The two sleep in separate beds, separate rooms, shared conversation, friends, refined tastes but not secrets.

Joy and Nolan are together as roommates with affection for each other, not lovers, not husband and wife. And still she tries to draw him back from this precipice that he is dangling himself over, not knowing if anything will cushion the fall or if he is just dooming himself to a life of gay hookers and boy toy flings.

We meet Nolan’s lifelong friend, Winston, played by Bob Odenkirk, a local professor who is just getting close to settling and reminisces of how the two of them were planning on running away to New York City, he to write his great American play and Nolan to work Madison Avenue. I wasn’t sure if the two each were so closeted that even with 30 years of friendship under their belt the secrets, deep secrets of  hidden feelings, the other “F” word, was too concerning to broach.

We also meet Patty, played by Eleonore Hendricks, as the new and lasting girlfriend in Winston’s life.

This is the second film I’ve seen Eleonore perform and her initial performance, in Come Down Molly was so engaging that my expectations of her performances are high. She was a nice addition to the cast. Her character was to be present. And she was.

Nolan and Joy, live a well ordered life, he is the care taker, and as he is nearing the end of this phase he is initiating the end with small passive aggressive actions, intentional lies, and attempts to hide leftover remnants of his guest without completing the action.

Marriages end for less reasons, and Baker portrays her anger as one would when the long term investment has failed to reach the dividend expected. Her life, as a wife, in words only, was better than single at 60. She suffers deeply for Nolan’s unspoken secret, as she knew, and although it is never spoken and barely implied, the idea is present that she knew for some time. What is for sure when Williams' character decides he is going to live his life all hell breaks loose in his well-ordered one effecting everyone.

Williams is powerful, reserved, and gives an unforgettable and uncomfortably honest portrayal. There is limited nudity and no sexual scenes or even kissing between the two characters.  One wonders what he was thinking now, as his private life has been exposed, if the lost look was genuine or for characterization.

Either way he delivers a tour de force performance as Nolan Mack the man too afraid to live honestly, too afraid to disappoint everyone, and maybe even fearful of divine retribution.

Some would say he plays an old queen trying to recapture a lost gay youth by slumming with the full knowledge that he will never have the longevity with his boy toy fling or uses it as the catalyst to finally free himself from his very well ordered life.

I wonder if the most powerful scene is really when he tells his father, a man muted by a stroke listening to his son muted by his own personal struggles and the response. I think this scene almost sums up the film as even as his father lies in a hospital bed, his wordless reaction conveys, what would have happened if they had this conversation a decade previously.

I had the opportunity to speak in depth once to a transgender man, who showed me a picture of himself as a female. He was stunning, I told him he should be married with that picture. He laughed. I asked him why he just didn’t live that way all the time and he said, he couldn’t disappoint his parents.

As BOULEVARD is an ensemble performance, the cast seamlessly presents a story of lives falling apart, of seasons changing, of hope renewed, of the strangeness of life.

BOULEVARD opens July 17, 2015 in select markets.

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