THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Marc Webb

Stars: Callum Turner, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Jeff Bridges, Kiersey Clemons, Wallace Shawn, Tate Donovan, Anh Duong, Debi Mazar, Bill Camp.

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Taking its title from a Simon and Garfunkel song, The Only Living Boy In New York is a gentle coming of age drama that explores themes of family, love and relationships and the messy nature of life.

The film follows the story of Thomas Webb (played by British actor and model Callum Turner, from Green Room, etc), a naive young man who is trying to find his place in the world. Having graduated from college and moved into his own apartment, the aspiring young writer is befriended by W F Gerald (played by Jeff Bridges), an alcoholic neighbour and author who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside shots of whiskey. Thomas has developed a crush on fellow college student Mimi (Kiersey Clemons, from the recent remake of Flatliners, etc), who works in a book store, but it is a strictly platonic relationship.

Thomas’ world soon comes crashing down when he discovers that his father Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), a wealthy book publisher, is having an affair with Johanna (Kate Beckinsale, from Love & Friendship, etc) a beautiful, younger book editor. Thomas sets out to break up the relationship. He begins by following her to learn more about her. He finds himself attracted to Johanna and ends up sleeping with her. Thomas’ actions set in motion a series of events that lead him to make some hard decisions and also discover some deeper troubling family secrets.

Written by veteran screenwriter Alan Loeb (the recent Collateral Beauty, etc) this is a fairly bland drama that follows a well-established formula. Loeb wrote the script a decade ago but it has taken this long for this earnest but unremarkable drama to be brought to the screen. There is a touch of the classic 1967 film The Graduate about the material as well, especially with its younger man/older woman dynamic. The script and the dialogue lack the wit and spark that Woody Allen brought to similar material back in his heyday. There is also a dinner party scene in which wealthy people sit around drinking and discussing how New York has lost its soul.

Turner has an awkward and gawky presence that seems perfectly suited to the rather downbeat and glibly acerbic character of Thomas (a role originally intended for Miles Teller). Nobody does crumpled, dishevelled, cynical and world weary quite like Bridges, and he seems to be channelling Nick Nolte here with his gruff performance and gravelly delivery. His gruff voice over narration says a lot about the changing nature of contemporary New York City. Beckinsale is all class as the beautiful and seductive Johanna. Brosnan is cast largely against type here and brings a rather stern, arrogant and unsympathetic quality to his performance as Thomas’ disapproving father, who has never respected his son’s ambitions. Cynthia Nixon, who was the best thing about the dull and inert A Quiet Passion, is good here as Judith, Thomas’ neurotic and emotionally vulnerable mother, who seems to prefer a sheltered life inside their luxurious apartment.

Despite a couple of intense, albeit cloying emotional moments, this is a fairly laid-back and unremarkable film that meanders along. Marc Webb directed the superb romantic comedy (500) Days Of Summer and recently gave us the drama Gifted, and he maintains a gentle approach throughout the material here. The film looks handsome though as cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (who worked with Webb on Gifted) does a good job with the visuals, and he captures some great views of the New York City streetscapes and skyline. And the soundtrack, heavily influenced by jazz and folk, also adds to the atmosphere.

But overall, The Only Living Boy In New York is forgettable stuff and leaves little lasting impression once the curtain closes and you leave the cinema.
★★☆

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