By Bill Wine

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s difficult to watch Boulevard without thinking about Robin Williams’ tragically premature death.

That makes this already melancholy drama even more melancholy an experience, but one worth seeing nonetheless.

 

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

 

That’s because this somber but engrossing piece features Williams in his final dramatic on-screen performance (he still has an animated movie, Absolutely Anything, in the can) as a 60-year-old banker who finally acknowledges his homosexuality and tries to live the life he was born to lead.

Williams stars in Boulevard as Nolan Mack, a quiet, sensitive, closeted gay man who has recently been promoted at the bank in Nashville where he has worked for 25 years. Not that he cares much.

He’s known he was gay since he was twelve years old, but he’s never indulged that knowledge in any way and has in essence been living a lie.

From all outward appearances, he lives a comfortable life with his wife, Joy, a part-time teacher played by Kathy Baker, with whom he only minimally communicates and who sleeps in a separate bedroom. And he fulfills a family obligation by looking in regularly on his catatonic father, with whom he has never really gotten along, at his nursing home.

Bob Odenkirk plays Nolan’s best friend, a college professor who seems to envy Nolan’s contented if childless marriage.

When Nolan meets Leo, a troubled young street hustler played by Roberto Aguire, he befriends him and realizes that something about his life has to change.

So he rethinks his identity and considers taking baby steps in the direction of giving up his old life, the one he’s built up over the years, hoping at some point to begin pursuing happiness in a radically different way.

Williams does fully textured work here – further reason for a sad reminder of all the roles we won’t get to see him play. He is reserved and thoughtful and understated as the lonely and regretful character, and he doesn’t let any of his broad, familiar comic mannerisms intrude on his authoritative and disciplined portrayal. And the great Kathy Baker is excellent in an underwritten role, never more so than in one late scene in which she finally explodes and virtually suggests a whole other movie centering on her fascinating character.

Although there are a few back stories missing that would help flesh out this too-brief narrative, director Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Fighting, The Son of No One, Empire State), working from a screenplay by Douglas Soesbe, does manage to uncover truths without indulging in sentimentality.

Given the recent changes in the legality of gay marriage, the film may seem a bit outdated. But the premise, the narrative’s central dilemma, is timeless.

So we’ll drive down 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for a tender and modest follow-your-heart drama. The plot holes are Boulevard’s potholes, but they’re paved over by the strong character work of Robin Williams and Kathy Baker.

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