Review: Boulevard! A Hollywood Story

Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, two young songwriters and romantic partners, Dickson Hughes and Richard Stapley, find themselves caught in movie star Gloria Swanson‘s web when she hires them to write a musical version of “Sunset Boulevard”.

The entire style of Boulevard! A Hollywood Story is exactly as you’d expect, it has the classic enthusiasm you find in the theatre community. It’s also typically American, the way that it moves through this story is entirely familiar, it’s structured and overtly narrated. It works well at first but it slowly starts to lose its energy around the half-way point. The progression is quite slow, it moves into slightly more obscure ground in its latter moments, which doesn’t help to hold onto your attention. It also affects the overall focus of the film, it strays quite far from its original story and never really gets back to it.

Ultimately, it feels more as though it’s trying to tell the story of Richard Stapley, and how he was impacted by his time with Hughes and Swanson. It’s interesting to a point, after which it becomes quite a lachrymose tale, of the extremely low success rate in Hollywood. It starts to track more how he sadly couldn’t reach the level he wanted to, rather than his involvement with the musical. It’s not a cheery story and leaves things on a strange note, almost eclipsing the anecdotes about Gloria Swanson. It’s especially sad to explore his relationships, keeping himself firmly in the closet and jeopardising his chance to be happy. He chose a somewhat thankless career, but wasn’t willing to risk losing it.

It similarly follows an unusual path with Swanson, while it originally feels like a testament to her resolve and strive to create better roles for older actresses, it lapses into diva territory. What it ends up with is more making her into the exact starlet you’d imagine, high maintenance, demanding and eccentric. It doesn’t feel intentional as they do spend a decent amount of time exploring positive anecdotes of how she helped push to improve the industry and take others under her wing, but it dampens the tone regardless.

Boulevard! A Hollywood Story has good intentions but feels as though it used a beloved classic film as bait into a story of an actor who sadly didn’t get to reach his full potential. Richard Stapley never gave up on the industry that gave up on him. The story of their determined attempt to make a musical is interesting but it just doesn’t take as much of the limelight as you’d hope, with the story getting too distracted along the way.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare 2022 – Showing on BFI Player throughout the festival

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