You’ve woken up and you’re 60-years-old. You blink and your chance for love, for liberation, for living the life you’ve wanted has all but disappeared. You turn the corner to your own home and you find artifacts, people, moments that hold zero significance. You’ve created a shell of a life-an exterior that was built to protect but caused more damage than comfort. That is the idea behind Dito Montiel’s new film Boulevard which beautifully tells the story of an older man, Nolan, who has woken up one day and realized that he can no longer keep up the charade he’s strewn for himself.
Montiel directed one of my favorite films, 2006’s A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints which told the story of lost youth, how parents shape their children’s futures intentional or not and how those you loved, those you admired, they never leave you. Because of my love for that film I had high expectations going into Boulevard but hadn’t read enough to truly know what to expect and what I got was something darker, something painful and something honest.
Nolan and his wife Joy live a convenient life, one that’s an excuse to hide from reality. He works at a bank and she works part time as a teacher. Every so often they have their friends over for a meal and some wine, they sleep in different bedrooms, they enjoy their separate lives, they love each other but they don’t share any passion.
After visiting his ailing father Nolan makes an impulsive decision which causes him to bump a young, male prostitute with his car. Following his urge to break free of his self-made confines Nolan invites this prostitute Leo into his car and they drive to the closest motel. Nolan it seems has known he was gay since his youth but has never acted on it. However, this isn’t a film about coming out, it isn’t a celebration of sexual liberation, it isn’t Beginners. It’s a movie about a man who just so happens to be gay but who is ultimately seeking the truth of who he is, it’s about a man who wants to live a life where every breath isn’t heavy, where he can smile at another man and feel the connection he misses with Joy.
Robin Williams delivers a moving performance as Nolan, internalizing the characters emotion which is a rarity for an actor who’s so well known for his more outlandish characters. Every emotion is kept close to him and every movement he makes is small, sheltered. Even when he opens up in pieces to Leo he is reserved.
Williams carries the film but the supporting cast is no less impressive. Kathy Baker gives an emotional performance as Joy who silently suffers, knowing Nolan’s truth and unwilling to admit her own, the chemistry between the two works wonders. Bob Odenkirk is ever reliable as Nolan’s friend, imbuing some humor into a heavy script. Newcomer Roberto Aguire has a quiet but attractive screen presence-he doesn’t chew the scene and he’s largely reactionary. He’s an actor that I would like to see more of.
Leo’s vulnerability is noted by Nolan and Williams does a wonderful job at conveying his attraction to the character as well as his protective nature. Leo is all delicacy, he’s rail thin, has wounded, bright eyes and clothes that shield him. Nolan doesn’t want anything sexual from him but will still pay him for his company, he wants the proximity, he wants the chance at something more; Nolan wants the romanticized version-the one where motels are something exciting and dinners are chances for more, where taking care of a bruised and beaten Leo is a tender act of love.
This film above all others that I saw at the Festival has stuck with me. Nolan’s internalized wanting, Joy’s silent endurance, Leo’s large, vulnerable eyes. The script written by Douglas Soesbe doesn’t offer any ideas that as viewers we haven’t heard before but it allows raw emotion to seep into the eyes of the watcher. It’s an unfiltered moment in a man’s life where he accepts the lies that he’s told, the shame that he’s felt and the love that he wants and it’s worth beholding. Montiel directs the film in a way that doesn’t sugar coat any decision that is made-he keeps it honest which in a story like Nolan’s makes it all the more impactful.