Films whose lead actors or actresses have recently passed away are never easy to review. Films that lack a palpable infusion of good ol’ dramatic tension are also not easy to review. A third member of the hard-to-review category might be films which leave one feeling neither excited nor disgusted, but merely indifferent. Boulevard, the final project of comedian extraordinaire Robin Williams before his death in August last year, is unfortunately all of these things, an unexciting affair that makes one feel bad for criticising it too much. To be fair, Williams’ performance is something to shout about, but it’s not enough to save the film from meandering its way into Nowheresville.
Nolan (Williams) is a 60-year-old model citizen who has a moderately well-paying job at a local bank and a reasonably happy marriage to Joy, a semi-retired teacher (Baker). His life is, in all regards, satisfactorily adequate. When a promotion opportunity comes along to upset the settled equilibrium of his life, however, Nolan is unable to continue burying his long-repressed sexuality beneath a veneer of normalcy. An impromptu drive down a street in the less reputable part of town results in a chance encounter with troubled youth Leo (Aguire), to whom Nolan takes an immediate shine. As his budding relationship with Leo threatens to collide with the drab respectability of his ‘normal’ life, Nolan must decide whether the truth is something he’s willing to live with for the rest of his life.
Boulevard has the serendipitous characteristic of playing out exactly like the life of its protagonist, which isn’t such a great thing considering that three-quarters of Nolan’s life has been spent mired in unremarkable placidity. The film plods along at a similarly sedate pace, with a general air of inconsequence permeating the proceedings. The fallout resulting from Nolan’s increasingly erratic behaviour should come across as ruinous and damaging at least, but the film’s muted sensibility and penchant for understatement dilute the emotional impact of his downwards trajectory. Too much time is spent reinforcing the former propriety of Nolan’s existence, as opposed to focusing more on how he has begun to detract from it. The result is an at-times-puzzling lack of force and gravitas in what should have been an emotionally charged depiction of a closeted man belatedly coming to terms with his sexual identity.
This isn’t to say that Boulevard is completely devoid of emotional charge. When the film finally hits its emotional stride in the last 20 minutes or so, however, the intensity of its concluding scenes is still somewhat muted by what came before. It’s as if the film had given audiences the mother of all sleeping pills, and then expected that a regular bucket of cold water would be sufficient to wake them up. There just isn’t enough time to process the sudden change in tone and mood. Most of the actors also struggle to abruptly ramp up their deliveries when the time for confrontations arrives. Baker’s Joy is so politically correct and placid that, when she finally loses it, her outburst seems out of character. The same can be said for Aguire’s Leo, a pale, phantom-like presence for most of the film who suddenly blows up in Nolan’s face. Only the ineffable Williams is able to portray his character with perceptible gradations of intensity. His Nolan, even at his most impulsive and emotional, still retains a semblance of his former repressed self.
As a send-off for the late Williams, Boulevard is about as un-exploitative as it can get. It premiered without much fanfare at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, opted for a cinematic release long after the tumult surrounding Williams’ death had died down, and leaves its viewers feeling pretty much nothing at all, rather than capitalising on the wellspring of grief generated by Williams’ death. You’ll be reminded that Williams was more than just a consummate funnyman, but not much else.
Summary: As interesting as watching a car progress serenely down a tree-lined road, albeit with some minor weaving in and out of lanes. Williams turns in a compelling performance, though.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 stars