Career local bank employee Nolan Mack (Williams) is seemingly happy with his ritualistic middle-class, middle-aged life with his longstanding wife (Baker). Aspiring writer, but languishing teacher Winston (Odenkirk), who is dating a student while he attempts to achieve the dreams of his youth, is Nolan’s only friend and single outlet for a limited ability to express his deeper feelings. However, when he nearly hits Leo (Roberto Aguire) with his car on one of many night-time contemplative drives, the world he has settled for shifts from under him, causing him to examine what he really wants out of life.
The general, simmering idea of the film is an interesting one. A man who doesn’t realise, or doesn’t want to realise the vacuity of his life-to-date is forced to confront his deeply buried emotions. The slow-burning awakening of Nolan, which climaxes with a confrontation with his wife, is the central intrigue for the viewer. Alongside this realistic tension is Nolan’s growing friendship with a young rent-boy, Leo. There is a strange dynamic between them, as the established adult Nolan fumbles his way through the relationship with the highly sexually aware Leo. However, perhaps due to his hesitancy, Nolan takes a paternal stance, where he wants to watch him with his shirt off in motel rooms, but is most interested in looking after him, primarily financially, not wanting to dare anything more. This muddles the main drama of a husband deciding that he should never have become a husband at all. It suggests an element of ‘daddy issues’ to explain Nolan’s repression of his sexuality, as a visit to his terminally ill father reiterates. This element makes for some odd narrative choices and when you lose faith in the reality of Nolan’s choices, you lose faith in the truth of the telling.
The growing disjoint in Nolan’s life is manifest in the disruption of his routine. There is a promotional opportunity at the bank, something he doesn’t want but to which his wife attaches symbolic importance. However, it’s a clear maguffin; Nolan will never make the looming dinner we have been building to, and when the hospital calls him as the only reference upon Leo’s hospitalisation the same evening – it’s all a bit predictable.
The central confrontation the next day between Robin Williams and Kathy Baker is the true heart of the film. Unfortunately, at this point the vitality of the spousal interplay has been watered down. They explore their unconventional love for each other, more akin to an alliance, as they look back on their years together. It’s a fabulous scene nonetheless.
It is welcome to see Williams return to straight drama in a good, if understated performance. Odenkirk and Baker orbit reliably as more recognisable character types, in a story of emotions that are hard to translate. Robert Aguire as Leo is charismatic but lacks consistency, not to his direct detriment, more due to direction and/or writing. The interesting contrast between Winston and Nolan’s career and disposition is underused. It’s probably supposed to be subtlety, but considering the number of times the audience is annoying underestimated, it would surely have been better to use this as a secondary focal point.
It’s not what you might have wanted for, and out of Robin Williams as he departs from newly produced films, but it’s one that doesn’t disgrace and is actually of an appropriate degree of solemnity. One hopes the ridiculously upbeat ending was for him and not part of the original concept though…
Review by George Meixner