Directed by Dito Montiel
Opens July 10
When a busy working actor dies unexpectedly, an extended wake continues onscreen. James Gandolfini died in the summer of 2013, but his final work in The Drop didn’t surface until over a year later. Three Philip Seymour Hoffman movies came out after his January 2014 passing, and his final one, the last Hunger Games movie, won’t debut until the fall. And here now is Robin Williams, gone just under a year, in Boulevard his final onscreen performance after two posthumous releases in 2014 (one more, his voice-only work in Absolutely Anything, will follow this year in Europe, and probably next year in the U.S.).
It finds Williams in understated, dramatic mode, rather than the pseudo-edgy bluster he played up in The Angriest Man in Brooklyn and Merry Friggin’ Christmas; though of course it doesn’t really matter in that his legacy is assured, I’m glad this one went last.
He plays Nolan Mack, a mild-mannered bank worker, long married to Joy (Kathy Baker), who keeps part of his true self hidden behind a veneer of vaguely apologetic mildness. In early scenes, the dialogue sags with exposition as the characters awkwardly remind each other of their backstories—but Williams’ gestures, his worried eyes, lift it back up again. Though he’s not doing comedy, the role takes advantage of both his warmth and his comic’s neediness. The dialogue strikes again by putting a flag on it: Nolan has “this fear of hurting people,” he explains to Leo (Roberto Aguire).
Leo is a male prostitute who Nolan accidentally-on-purpose picks up. They don’t have sex; they just go to an hourly motel and talk. They meet again, still without sex. We learn that Nolan very, very quietly identifies as gay—possibly too quietly for himself to hear, sometimes. He doesn’t seem sure if he even wants a sexual relationship with Leo, or simply welcomes the opportunity to act a little more like his real self. Director Dito Montiel, who made A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, shows a delicate touch in his capturing of the Williams and Baker performances, letting his camera linger long enough to gain a sense of tenderness in their marriage underneath Joy’s mounting distrust.
But the movie pushes and pulls in vaguely unsatisfying directions: it goes grittier when introducing Leo’s violent, irredeemable pimp, then simplistic when it winds up deciding that it’s really just a hopeful coming-out story for Nolan. Either way, Leo winds up a prop, and even Joy becomes more of an obstacle after spending most of the movie acting like a real person. Williams, though, never falters (fellow comedian-thespian Bob Odenkirk is also good, in a small role as Nolan’s best buddy). It’s his best movie performance since World’s Greatest Dad, and it’s the last one we get.