Boulevard is a putrid “sins of the father” drama that parades Nolan (Robin Williams), a reserved banker, through a series of crises that all stem from his unconscious realization that he’s been doing “what he’s supposed to” for his entire life. While the film isn’t precise on any of the details that could prompt Nolan’s sudden sense of waywardness, it’s bluntly clear on his confluence of troubling circumstances, like his father’s declining health, a robotic marriage to Joy (Kathy Baker), and a chance meeting with a young street hustler, Leo (Robert Aguire), that results in the pair seeing each other regularly, albeit in a manner that tiptoes around sex. Nolan is taken by Leo’s thin physique, though he prefers to rent a room at a roach motel and watch him undress from across the room, sipping a cup of the dump’s complimentary coffee instead of embracing the poverty-stricken, pimp-owned trick.
Without introspection or even a more unusual visual approach, writer Douglas Soesbe and director Dito Montiel provide Nolan as a surrogate for white, middle-class identification, whose safety from any real danger comes via his seemingly endless supply of cash, either given to Leo or used to pay off Eddie (Giles Matthey), his twang-speaking pimp, caricatured for maximal offence as an object for Nolan’s horror. This is what the ghetto is like, Nolan’s eyes seem to say as he watches Eddie beat on Leo from afar. The film similarly trots through basic high points of Nolan’s abandoned privilege, where his sense of self is soon devoted to helping Leo in any conceivable way, but primarily with money and bourgification, all while trying to keep his dealings quiet from family and friends, including an English professor (Bob Odenkirk) who pops in and out as a device to problematize Nolan’s moonlit pursuits. The filmmakers opt for pedestrian aesthetics as well, with a score used for punctuation and nearly every sequence composed in competent, perfunctory framings. It’s likely intended as an actor’s showcase for Williams, though he seems to be in a different register than his filmmakers, with his stifled speech and hair-trigger fragility belonging in an odder or, at least, cannier film.
Not merely rote, Boulevard is contemptible for a belief in its own stature as a daring attempt to parse through the minutia of its core relationship, where Nolan’s uncertain sexuality would be terms enough to laud the film’s provocative insights. Little, however, develops in this regard, since the filmmakers use the premise simply to thread the progressive needle, as if the very topic of gay desire warranted leftist praise. Boulevard provides no reason for a lack of sexual intimacy between the two, other than a palpable trepidation to actually depict an instance of gay sex. It wants to place itself inside of a seemingly hot-button premise without committing to any form of thorough exploration. That’s not insight—it’s exploitation passing as such. Unlike the recent, remarkable Eastern Boys, where male hustling and economics are dealt with in a careful, even delicate manner, Boulevard is as empty and anonymous as its eponymous stretch of road.