How Robin Williams' final movie, 'Boulevard,' perfectly captures loneliness
Within the first ten minutes of Boulevard, you’re faced to a closeup of the late, great Robin Williams. As he brushes his teeth, gargling to rinse his mouth, you feel like you truly see Williams like you never did before. As his character holds an old model Blackberry to text, his fumbling fingers make your face crumble. When he triumphantly sneaks a can of ginger ale into his father’s nursing home, your eyeballs water.
Playing Nolan Mack — a 60-year-old closeted homosexual man trying very hard to live a normal life until he meets a male prostitute named Leo — Williams does what he has always done best: he transforms himself utterly and completely. But this version of Williams isn’t zaney or theatrical or very funny at all. This version of Williams contains multitudes of loneliness, as it’s meant to.
As the film unravels, we see that Nolan Mack has carefully, quietly curated his life — everything from the nondescript 15-year-old dust-colored Mercedes he drives, to the smart, soft-spoken woman he married (played by the magnificent Kathy Baker) to the regimented lunches he gets with his old friend, Winston (Breaking Bad‘s Bob Odenkirk). You can’t help but feel this intense pity for Nolan — probably because he’s a very pitiful character. But he’s also a self-aware character who understands this, which is what finally leads him to Leo.
Leo, who Nolan literally runs into with his car, is sullen, and never really finds the right words to say –but he does bring something out of Nolan. Leo involuntarily makes him question whether the paltry life Nolan’s made for himself is enough. Will he and his wife continue sleeping in separate bedrooms — only to check in with each other at night about the novels they’re reading, to tell each other dutiful “goodnight”s and “I love you”s? Will Nolan finally tell his father he’s gay? Will he break the cycle he so purposely set in motion years ago?
Boulevard, which was shot in Nashville, Tennessee in just 22 days, captures a mesmerizing sadness. It will make you feel some feelings, maybe even uncomfortable feelings, or conflicted feelings or very very weighty, unsure feelings. Williams delivers his character with the same kind of terrifying loneliness we saw in One Hour Photo, that is to say, excellently, convincingly. What Boulevard does best is prove that no one is immune to feeling alone.
In a press release, director Montiel states that Nolan’s crisis is “something we all deal with, whether it’s your job, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your husband, your wife, or your kids, you probably have some element of this going on. And that’s what I hope people can relate to — the idea that they know Nolan…There are little pieces of Nolan…in all of us.” Boulevard seizes the idea that often in order to find happiness, it means making choices that may not be the easiest — and that’s strikingly universal.
(Images via YouTube)