Because I loved Some Like It Hot and The Apartment (both Billy Wilder movies), and I have read nothing but great things about it, I had very high expectations for Sunset Boulevard. And the film was just as good as I was expecting it to be.
In Hollywood of the 1950s, Joe Gillis (William Holden), a young, down-on-his-luck screenwriter, is hired by Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), an ageing and fading silent film queen, to write a screenplay starring her. Joe accepted the job as he believed he could manipulate the rich woman but he soon finds himself imprisoned in the lonely mansion of the starlet and develops a toxic relationship with her.
The plot and its development are just a few of the many things I loved about the film. This is one of those times the story starts at the end and then it's all shown to the audience through one long flashback. Though you already know how it will end, the story grabs your attention and sucks you in right away and by the time you get to the end, you'll be so caught up in the story that the ending will still catch you by surprise.
What helps making the story so interesting and absorbing is the characters. They are written and performed in a way that not only they are interesting to watch but you will care about them. Norma Desmond is an ageing and forgotten movie star, a narcissist, who is trying to recapture an era that is gone --that of silent film. She is delusional, stuck with the illusions she is still famous. Gloria Swanson gives a spectacular performance as Norma Desmond as she captures the desperation, melancholy, joy and mental breakdown to perfection.
On the other hand, there's Joe Gillis. He is a cynic, greedy, opportunistic young man who plans on playing Norma right from the start to achieve success. He eventually finds himself more a prisoner than a guest as Norma falls in love with him. The performance by William Holden is flawless. He conveys the anger, the pity, the desperation and helplessness of Joe perfectly.
The supporting characters are also quite interesting, especially Max, Norma's butler. He too is trapped in Norma's web, but he is the one who created that web. Max is the one in control, the one and only with the real power, and Erich von Stroheim does an amazing job capturing all that. Nancy Olson too does a good job as Betty, a young Paramount script reader who eventually falls in love with Hoe, and her chemistry with Holden is good. However, that subplot, though it was needed by the plot, it feels rather forced.
All of that being said, Sunset Boulevard isn't a movie about people, it is a love letter to movies, silent era and the audience as well. It does a wonderful job showing what a place like Hollywood does to people like Norma --they turn them into stars, promise them everything and then throw them away when they no longer need them. But it isn't only about Hollywood or movies. It is also about dreams and hopes and what is like to give up on them.
At last, Sunset Boulevard has a wonderful cinematography that adds an amazing atmosphere to the film. Not to mention some truly mesmerizing shots, like the opening sequences of the corpse floating in the pool. Easily one of the best openings ever.