Published Aug 13, 2015Boulevard is an odd project for Dito Montiel. He's probably best known for directing mediocre, faux-gritty street thug and cop fare like The Son of No One and Fighting. Yet Boulevard is about a mild-mannered, closeted gay man — Nolan Mack (Robin Williams) — in a marriage of convenience to his best friend, the ironically named Joy (Kathy Baker).
It's initially a very quiet and contemplative film, capturing the simultaneous distance and respect that Joy and Nolan have for each other. Though they sleep in separate beds and discuss mostly superficial things (the wine they pick up for dinner, or the books they're reading in their leisure time), there's a sense of equanimity in their stable, albeit mundane, 26-year marriage.
There's also a deep sadness beneath it all. Baker, who is always strong, communicates very intense feelings and understanding with the expression underlying her words. She holds on to the idea of a cruise — a metaphor for the consumer-oriented falsity that propels and projects normalcy onto most marriages — as a mode of rekindling the affection she has for a man that treats her well and obviously cares, but has longings she can't satisfy. Similarly, Williams, in a rather devastating performance (for a variety of reasons), holds the weight of decades of repression on his shoulders, saying what people want to hear and subduing any opinion that might construe any sort of effective challenge. He exists only to satisfy others, which is, sadly, why everyone is so fond of him.
Where Montiel's sensibilities step in is the secondary storyline and impetus for conflict. Nolan, after almost running down Leo (Roberto Aguire), a rent boy, develops a pseudo-sexual romantic (and creepily parental) fixation on the boy. And, in trying to take care of him — getting him a legitimate job and offering him extra money despite the lack of sexual consummation — he jeopardizes the calm in his own life, lying to his wife about his whereabouts and bringing conflict into the workplace, where he's up for a promotion.
Montiel understands the sort of underworld that Leo inhabits, which helps add some authenticity to the danger that Nolan is walking into. Though some of the initial conversations in the film are a tad laboured — particularly within Nolan's office space, where the presentation of his boss as an active homophobe is a tad too contrived for its own good — the handling, and juxtaposition, of the two worlds is quite effective. Montiel's knack for capturing the conflict and survivalist motivation of the lower class and complementing it with the performative sensibilities of the middle class is quite astute, and helps Boulevard maintain its dignity and intensity while slowly going down the rabbit hole.
And even though this low-key character drama depicts the gradual self-destruction of a man losing control of his reason, it's not entirely a tragedy. There's a sense of hope within this story that reminds us that it's never too late to follow a new path and that sometimes, what might be considered a failure might actually turn out to be the best thing that could have happened. It's a simple but important message to extend within the context of a story that is far more common than most people might realize.