I miss Robin Williams. Since my days of watching Mork and Mindy when I was a child, through to Good Morning Vietnam, Insomnia, and One Hour Photo, to his incredible stand-up that I was lucky enough to experience live, he was always of my favourite performers. His death last year was a shock to me, just like to so many others, but knowing we’ve been left with an enduring body of work was some small comfort.
Boulevard is Williams’ last live-action performance and, as one would expect, the actor is brilliant in an understated role in a small film.
Written by Douglas Soespe and directed by Dito Montiel, Boulevard is the story of Nolan Mack (Williams), who has worked at the same bank for nearly 26 years and has grown into a life of monotony. He and his wife (Kathy Baker) are barely a couple, treading on mutual respect and friendship rather than any sort of love. Nolan and his professor friend Winston (Bob Odenkirk) have a weekly lunch, and Nolan is always on call for his sick father. His life suddenly begins to change one night when he picks up a prostitute named Leo (Roberto Aquire), and Nolan is suddenly forced to deal with all that he’s felt compelled to hide.
Anyone looking for the madcap Williams won’t find it in Boulevard. His performance here is quiet and methodical, a slow-burn that never actually requires the actor to turn on that manic intensity so many of us will remember him for. This is a performance of revelation and introspection, and it’s yet another wonderful example of Williams the dramatic actor. Very few of his contemporaries have ever been able to move between comedy and drama the way that Williams did. It’s just one more reason to miss him.
Though the film drags a little bit towards its end, Williams’ performance makes you stick with Boulevard all the way through. You can’t help wonder what will happen – will Nolan embrace the life he’s run from? Or will he settle back into the safety of a life of lies?
Though filmed in 2014, it’s that last part, the life of lies, that makes Boulevard especially poignant for the here and now. In many ways, the film deals with the same theme of being true to yourself that Caitlyn Jenner is currently exploring in public, with all eyes on her. It’s no spoiler to say that both Jenner and the character of Nolan are men in their 60s who are finally ready to deal with the secrets they’ve felt compelled to keep. Both should be inspirations to us all for a willingness to accept and embrace change at an advanced age.
Watching Boulevard won’t make the loss of Robin Williams any easier for those of us that love his work. Instead it’s a fitting testament to the brilliance of the man, and the sad fact that there’s no more work to come.
Boulevard screens in Toronto at The Royal August 14-18, 22-23 and 27.