Jul 17

“Boulevard”: Robin Williams Heads for a More Authentic Life

Director Dito Montiel‘s agreeable later-life coming-out drama “Boulevard” already labors under a burden of true tragedy: It’s the last dramatic role the late Robin Williams filmed before his August 2014 suicide, the knowledge of which colors and shapes a viewer’s reaction to the film. James Rocchi, The Wrap, about Boulevard

Rex Reed, New York Observer, introduces Boulevard:

In one of his most touching and nuanced performances, the actor of many faces and master of twice as many voices plays a polite, reserved and unassuming man named Nolan Mack—a cultured, educated and repressed officer of a bank in Nashville, Tenn., where he has worked for 26 years, with a father in a nursing home and a devoted schoolteacher wife named Joy (another performance, real as breathing, by the marvelous Kathy Baker). They appreciate the same music, movies and books as well as small dinners with friends, share the household duties and then formally retire to separate bedrooms. Nolan has no vices and no outstanding virtues, either. He’s been a blank page since he had his first sexual experience with another boy at the age of 12 and then erased it from his life for five decades. This is the year when everything changes.

Peter Debruge, Variety, tells us how:

Returning home from a visit to his father in the retirement home one night, Nolan upsets his routine with a rare impulsive decision. He’s driven by the streetwalkers who line the boulevard countless times without ever so much as acknowledging them. Now, for some reason, he pulls up alongside them, clearly trying to muster the courage to speak to one of them when a young man steps in front of his car. Despite his tawdry profession and strung-out look, Leo (Roberto Aguire) may as well be an angel fallen from heaven, and Nolan accepts the offer to give him a ride without ever collecting on the implied double entendre.

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporterelaborates:

…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…

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…

It’s Winston, by the way, who winds up expressing (to Nolan) a main theme: “Maybe it’s never too late to finally start living the life you really want.” 

You can watch the trailer for Boulevard here:

Williams As Nolan

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “…(H)e may be the loneliest man Mr. Williams ever played. Under his bland exterior, he is emotionally curled into a fetal position. The performance is so convincing that you can’t help wondering to what degree Nolan resembles the more somber Robin Williams…”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “…(T)he actor projects a regret so deep and identifiable, viewers should have no trouble connecting it to whatever is missing in their own lives — whether those regrets are romantic, sexual, professional or spiritual.”

Andrew Lapin, NPR: “It’s an exquisite performance, and one with unmissable glimpses of some deep depression.”

Jan 21

“Nebraska”: Aged Alcoholic Takes a Misguided Trip

Why does son David (Will Forte) drive his aged, possibly demented, alcoholic father Woody (Bruce Dern) from his home in Montana to Nebraska in Alexander Payne‘s comedy-drama of the same name? Because Woody mistakenly believes a sweepstakes letter he’s received makes him a new millionaire. So he’s now eager to get to their central office in Lincoln to collect his money.

Although David and the rest of the family know the letter is just a come-on designed to sell magazines, Woody can’t be convinced. So he keeps trying the impossible task of making it there on foot, meaning it’s David who keeps getting called to go pick him up somewhere—clearly it’s David’s role because no one else wants it.

What else is going on in David’s life? His girlfriend has recently moved out. His job involves selling audio products, which he performs in his usual low-key noncommittal way.

After a series of frustrating experiences regarding Woody’s fantasy, David decides what the heck—he calls in sick, succumbing to the idea of taking Woody on his road trip. Hey, maybe it’s a chance to bond with his inscrutable dad at last.

Meanwhile, David’s brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) and mom Kate (June Squibb), “a formidable force, a foulmouthed voice of reason” (Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com) are both angry and fed up about Woody and his chronically crazy behavior.

Check out the trailer to the film, which was shot in black and white:

The Trip and Family Dynamics

Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com: “Along the way, Woody and David stop to see Mount Rushmore (dad is unimpressed) before making an extended visit to Woody’s hometown in Nebraska. The son becomes increasingly frazzled by his inability to keep his father out of his dive-bar haunts and stop him from spouting off about his alleged windfall.”

During an extended-family visit, Ross and June decide to come out and meet up with everyone.

David EdelsteinNew York Magazine, about Woody: “The question hangs from first frame to last: How much is in there? How much does he know? How much does he feel? Dern gives a beautiful performance, near-­pantomime—broken with the odd expulsive obscenity.”

And Joe Williams, stltoday.com, adds that he’s “not quite as monstrous as he seems.” Furthermore, although his wife is generally miserable about her mate, “When the vultures circle, Katie is his feistiest protector.”

Summary Review

David Edelstein, New York Magazine:

Nebraska has something close to a feel-good ending, and it’s not—miraculously—a cheat. Payne and screenwriter Nelson pull a rabbit out of their hat. They turn their focus inward; they go to the ­emotional source of Woody’s quest, his idée fixe. They even account—obliquely—for his dementia, which must be partly willed, the longed-for stupor of a man who doesn’t want to reckon with a half-lived life. His sudden connection with the son who sticks by him in spite of everything is worth the price of a ticket—ours and David’s. At the end of the road, you feel like a million bucks.