Friday, July 10, 2015

Robin Williams Drives BOULEVARD

It's not that he and I were close friends.  I interviewed him four times.  I ran into him on the street a couple of times.  But, in my TV career, Robin Williams was extremely kind to me.  The first two times I interviewed him, I was working for Milwaukee's ABC affiliate.  He'd been a big ABC TV star on the sitcom Mork & Mindy. 

When I was new to New York City in 1985, having been hired by WPIX TV,  I was welcomed with a congratulatory phone call from Robin Williams.  He told me that I was talented and that I belonged there.  He gave me words of advice that I continue to hold dear to this day.  By the way, just three months before I accepted the WPIX job offer, my Vice-President boss at the Milwaukee station told me that I didn't have the talent to get to New York.  Robin's phone call meant a lot to me.

I was in a sandwich shop in Northern California last year when I saw the news bulletin that he was dead.  I went into the restroom and broke out crying.  He'd deeply touched my heart in the few encounters that we had.  And, of course, he dazzled me with his talents on the small and big screen for years and years.

Robin Williams and Kathy Baker star in BOULEVARD.  It opens in New York City on July 10th and in selected other cities on July 17th.  It should open wider.  His fans should see him play this closeted married man whose ordinary life is suddenly disrupted and unpredictable.  He's forced to face the reality of himself at age 60.
It broke my heart.  Boulevard reminds us what a versatile, gifted talent we lost in Robin Williams.  A middle-aged man falling for a young hustler has been almost overdone in indie films, but Boulevard gives us something different.                                                                                                                    
As for Kathy Baker, I've been a fan of hers since The Right Stuff back in 1983.                                                                                                                                                    
Her Boulevard performance makes it hard to believe she's never been an Oscar contender.  Robin Williams and Kathy Baker were excellent together.  Here's a trailer.
He's a quiet, simple man who works in a bank.  He's a model employee.  We see that he's very respectful of a same-sex couple needing a loan.  We sense that he wants to have more communication with the two men.  We also sense his displeasure when a co-worker makes snide comments about them. In his car and in his life, he makes a U-turn one night.  Married Nolan Mack (Williams) meets young Leo (Roberto Aguire), a male hustler on the boulevard.  He will become infatuated and try to rehabilitate Leo.  But Nolan's infatuation is not sexual.  That's a big difference here.  I've seen a number of gay indie films about an older man falling for a young handsome hustler and sex is a main objective.  With hetero couples in classic films, we've seen that in The Blue Angel (1930) and Scarlet Street (1945) and in every version of Of Human Bondage (1934, 1946 and 1964).  In Boulevard, sexual satisfaction is not a main objective.  Nolan needs intimacy, emotional intimacy and a sense of freedom to reveal his true self.  He and his wife, Joy (well-layed by Kathy Baker) sleep in separate rooms.  They're friendly and you feel that the marriage was essentially a safe place to fall, especially for him.  Their upscale marriage has  been like one long piece of beige linen.  No wrinkles.

Nolan's smile at work seems listless.  There's not a vibrancy about him.  His spirit seems to have been dulled.  You sense a sadness in him onscreen that plays on the sadness you assume the actor carried personally.  A sadness from physical challenges so heavy that it caused him to take his own life.  Nolan's fairly innocent relationship with the irresponsible street whore will cause a mess.  Will Nolan fix the mess by being honest with his wife, his brother, his father, himself?  Or did that U-turn lead to a dead end?

Robin Williams is quite moving as a man who's been asleep at the wheel of his own life.  If you took a 25 year-old to see Boulevard and, when it ended, said "Robin Williams was one of the wildest and funniest people in show business, the response would probably be "No way!"  If you had that same 25-year old then watch a classic episode of Mork & Mindy followed by the movies Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), that young adult would be awed at the range of Robin Williams.

Kathy Baker has proven her acting chops in Street Smart (1987) co-starring Williams' dear friend Christopher Reeve, Edward Scissorhands (1990), The Cider House Rules (1999) and Cold Mountain (2003).  She's done extensive work on TV such as the CBS series Picket Fences and on Medium.  Her Boulevard role may be one of the best she's had in a while.

The film was written and directed by Dito Montiel.  It runs about 90 minutes.
I miss Robin Williams.  This world needs kindness.  And he was a very kind man.

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