Robin Williams was never a stranger to pathos, though often his dramatic ability was overshadowed by the broad comedy persona that made him a household name. Though he continued his comedy career right up until the end of his life, dramatic endeavor seemed to become his focus in later years.
It was this ability to turn in a sensitive performance that kept him relevant throughout the 1990s and 2000s and that will serve him well in his final performance here in Boulevard, the story of Nolan Mack (Williams), a man in his later years who must finally come to terms with the secret life he has been living and confront his true self. Nolan has been working a monotonous bank job for 26 years and has grown estranged from his wife (Kathy Baker), but a chance encounter with a young hustler called Leo (played by newcomer Roberto Aguire) gives Nolan new cause to reflect on his life.
This is Williams’ first time working with director Dito Montiel (Son of No One, Empire State), a former hardcore punk musician (his band, Gutterboy, was famously signed to Geffen Records for $1 million only to be dropped shortly thereafter) whose directorial debut, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, was a memoir of his experiences in the hardcore punk scene of the early 1980s. Boulevard premiered at Tribeca Film Festival last year, where it found distribution with Starz Digital and received a handful of positive reviews.
It wasn’t really until 1989’s Dead Poets Society that the public started to allow their perception of Williams to encompass his dramatic work, though he played serious roles from the beginning of his career. In fact, his second starring role in a major motion picture was his pitch-perfect take on the character T.S. Garp in George Roy Hill’s adaptation of John Irving’s “The World According to Garp”.
Throughout Williams’ career comedy was always the main thrust, but there was more often than not a great humanity to his film roles that would ground that comedy in something more emotionally tangible; movies like Moscow on the Hudson, The Best of Times and Good Morning Vietnam showed this sensitive mix that made him a deceptively unique and versatile performer.
Perhaps the complicated nature of the protagonist’s character is what drew Williams to this project. Perhaps a desire to be recognized as much for his serious work as for comedy is what compelled him to pepper the latter half of his career with darker characters (One Hour Photo) and more psychologically complex fare (Insomnia, Dead Again).
That Williams’ two final performances were a dramatic turn here in Boulevard and the voice of an anthropomorphic dog in Terry Jones’ Simon Pegg-starring comedy Absolutely Anything seem like as good an encapsulation of what made Robin Williams great as any.
Boulevard will arrive in U.S. theaters on July 10, 2015.