Robin Williams

‘Boulevard’ — last Robin Williams movie a sad one

Those hoping that “Boulevard” might lessen the sting of Robin Williams’ death will be disappointed by the film containing his last onscreen performance. This is not the beautiful gift that arrives by mail to remind us, months after the sender’s passing, of a glorious life. It is rather something that keys us into an actor’s pain and yet presents him in a diminished light.

The film attempts to tell the story of a gay man who has been aware of his sexuality since the age of 12, but who has gone 48 years without doing anything about it. Somewhere along the line, he stumbled into a marriage (to a woman, played by Kathy Baker) and stayed married. He also stumbled into a job as a loan officer in a bank, and he has stayed there, too, for almost three decades.

Obviously, this is a rather passive character, one that calls for a performance that suggests that. But even a passive person isn’t completely without energy. Even a passive person will be active in some areas of life. Instead, what we get in “Boulevard” is a script that amplifies a good actor’s worst tendencies, to play every moment — virtually every line of dialogue — as one of repressed emotion.

Needless to say, this is a very awkward thing to talk about. Even beyond this being the last new film by a beloved actor who died recently and under sad and shocking circumstances, there’s also the question of what exactly we’re seeing in “Boulevard.” Is this only a performance, or is the listlessness Williams displays here an expression of the actor’s own depression? There are reports out there saying that Williams was, in fact, full of energy and in good spirits when he made this film. But sometimes actors reveal more to the camera than they do to the people around them.

In any case, he gives a peculiar performance in a movie that’s more peculiar than anyone could have intended. The idea it seems to want to put forth is that Nolan (Williams) is contained and meek in all areas of his life, because of the fundamental thing he’s suppressing, his sexuality. But as presented here, the problem seems the reverse. His inability to express his sexuality is just one problem and fairly far down the list. This man can’t even talk to people. He can’t have an authentic interaction. He can’t enjoy anything. He is miserable, outside and inside, and can’t begin to fake it.

You would think this would make for a sympathetic character, but it doesn’t, because Nolan is a coward in every facet of his existence. As played by Williams and directed by Dito Montiel, Nolan seems afraid of everybody he knows, including his wife and his best friend (Bob Odenkirk), who want the best for him. As a result, Nolan is inconceivable as someone anybody would want to be married to, and it’s impossible to believe he could maintain a friendship. In scene after scene, his co-stars put out energy and Williams absorbs it, reflects on it and gives back sadness.

Of course, in a certain sense it’s nice to see Williams anyway, but not really, not like this. To watch “Boulevard” is to keep circling back, over and over, to the question: Was it merely an actor’s misguided inspiration, to take a repressed character and turn him into a grievously depressed one? Or was Williams simply unable to do it any other way?

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