The Only Living Boy in New York (2017)

  • Time: 88 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Marc Webb
  • Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Cynthia Nixon, Pierce Brosnan, Callum Turner, Jeff Bridges


Adrift in New York City, a recent college graduate’s life is upended by his father’s mistress.

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  • The Only Living Boy in New York, the latest from director Marc Webb, tries to be this generation’s The Graduate but, to paraphrase one of the film’s lines, something’s missing and it’s all too easy to pinpoint its myriad of issues, not the least of which is screenwriter Allan Loeb’s decision to filter everything through the perspective of twentysomething protagonist Thomas Webb (Callum Turner).

    Thomas is the son of Judith (Cynthia Nixon), a depressive who self-medicates by throwing dinner parties for her artist friends, and Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), a publishing executive who discourages his son’s writerly aspirations and who wonders why his son insists on living in the Lower East Side. The distance is so hurtful, his father says. Meanwhile, Thomas pines for Mimi (Kiersey Clemons) but she insists on keeping their relationship strictly in the friend zone. After all, she does have a boyfriend, a never-seen musician touring with his band named Fahrenheit 185 which is, as W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges) points out, “the exact temperature it takes to cook heroin properly.”

    W.F. is Thomas’ new neighbour who very quickly becomes his confidante and mentor. The immediacy of W.F.’s ingratiation into Thomas’ travails is a bit puzzling to say the least. His isolation from the rest of the players also feels deliberate to the point where one starts wondering if W.F. might be a figment of Thomas’ imagination. Whatever the case, W.F. is there to offer guidance on how to win Mimi’s heart (she needs to be afraid of something more than being with Thomas, W.F. observes) and also how to deal with Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), whom Thomas learns is his father’s mistress and with whom Thomas himself will become entangled.

    The Only Living Boy in New York plays at sophistication and cleverness, but comes off as painfully artificial. These are the types of characters that are more alive on the page – onscreen they orbit one another, but never connect. Since they’re seen through Thomas’ eyes, the characters remain one-dimensional, which is particularly detrimental to the triangle between father, son and the other woman. The conflict Johanna experiences is told rather than shown, and Thomas is too underdeveloped a character and Turner too lightweight an actor to really carry the complexities inherent to the tangled romantic web.

    Fortunately, the film is executed with poise and professionalism. Scenes are well-crafted, song selections are pleasing if a bit too on the nose, and the first-rate cast imbue depth into the superficial screenplay. Brosnan is a surprising standout, his burst of anger and subsequent sadness during one pivotal scene conveying more years of back story in mere minutes.

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