Boulevard: Tribeca Review

Sensitive handling of sensationalism-ready material

Robin Williams plays a man finally acknowledging to himself that he is gay.

NEW YORK – Robin Williams plays a man who has waited almost five decades to confront his own homosexuality in Boulevard, Dito Montiel's tender but unsentimental take on a story that benefits from finesse. In one of the least showy performances of his career, Williams creates a character who, as written by Douglas Soesbe, doesn't feel much like the men we've seen handle similar turning points onscreen. The actor will be an important draw at theaters, where admirers of Montiel's A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and The Son of No One will find a less gritty but still authentic-feeling film.

Williams's Nolan Mack is an educated, cultured man who lives as though in a straightjacket. Doing the same job at the same bank branch for decades without seeking to advance, he comes home to wife Joy (Kathy Baker) and makes small talk about whatever novels they're reading before retiring to his own bedroom. He's not a closeted man who has had anonymous gay liaisons all his life; from what we see, he doesn't even appear to have a stash of hidden porn. He realized he was gay the summer he turned 12, and evidently went on about his life as if he didn't know.

A switch flips when, driving home one night after visiting his catatonic father in a nursing home, he encounters a hustler named Leo (Roberto Aguire). "Do you want to give me a ride?," the boy asks, and before he's forced to acknowledge the less innocent implications of that question, they're off.

Though they wind up in a motel room, Nolan isn't after anything Leo is used to giving. He doesn't even touch the boy, and it doesn't seem to be a question of shyness or shame. Just being in his presence is, at first, enough. The two begin an intermittent (paid) relationship that, however positive their encounters are, is strange enough it inevitably creates problems for both men: Nolan makes excuses for being out late that Joy knows are lies; Leo is so thrown by having a customer not want sex that he responds erratically. Relative newcomer Aguire plays the wounded young man well, mixing sullenness with a glimmer of suspicious gratitude for the older man's kindness.

We get a feel for the healthier part of Nolan's world over lunches and dinners with his best friend Winston (Bob Odenkirk), a college professor who dates his students and seems convinced enough that Nolan's marriage is good that he envies it. Winston witnesses the workplace event that makes it impossible for Nolan to continue with things as they are, but it's a while before the shock waves reach Joy, who would just as soon find ways to pretend everything is fine.

Montiel has presented enough scenes of menace and violence in other films that he seems comfortable downplaying encounters with Leo's pimp here. More tense and ugly than frightening, the scenes understand that physical harm isn't as threatening to Nolan as the interruption of a button-down charade he has lived for decades -- one that has never been truly fulfilling, but is comfortable enough that he's taken aback when someone asks an obvious question: "Are you happy?" The picture has a rather abrupt take on how Nolan might pursue real happiness, saddling Odenkirk with the kind of wrap-it-up homily he would have mocked in Mr. Show; but its depiction of the False Nolan's unraveling rings true.

Production: Camellia Entertainment, Evil Media Empire

Cast: Robin Williams, Kathy Baker, Roberto Aguire, Bob Odenkirk, Giles Matthey, Eleonore Hendricks

Director: Dito Montiel

Screenwriter: Douglas Soesbe

Producers: Monica Aguirre Diez Barroso, Ryan Belenzon, Mia Chang, Jeffrey Gelber

Executive producers: Mark Moran, Todd Williams

Director of photography: Chung-hoon Chung

Production designer: Angela Messina

Costume designer: Carlos Rosario

Editor: Jake Pushinsky

Music: David Wittman

Not Rated, 87 minutes