The Only Living Boy In New York | Marc Webb | August 11, 2017
Who is the real Marc Webb? While the director made a huge splash in 2009 with the fantastic (500) Days Of Summer, he got lost in the studio system with The Amazing Spider-Man franchise that limped out with a whimper, but then made some ground back just a few months ago with the rather solid Gifted. But with The Only Living Boy In New York, his second film of 2017, he seems to have taken another step in the wrong direction.
Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) is a college grad who aspires to be a writer, but is brought down a few notches by his father Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), the founder of a publishing house who isn’t so confident that Thomas can fight the odds to make a living as a writer. He looks down at Thomas for leaving their comfy Upper West Side lifestyle to “slum it” down on the LES. Even with their comfortable lifestyle, Thomas’ mother Judith (Cynthia Nixon) suffers from depression, a far cry from the ideal family dynamic that she wishes they had. Thomas’ love life is no better; he’s in love with his best friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), and although they hooked up once, she’s got him tucked away in the friend-zone.
Things get a little crazy when Thomas spots his father cheating on his mother with a beautiful young woman named Johanna (Kate Beckinsale) and takes it upon himself to follow her around so he can confront her himself. All this happens right as Thomas befriends his mysterious new neighbor, W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges), a pretty well-known writer who offers Thomas advice about how to navigate all of his new troubled waters.
At first, Thomas simply wants Johanna to get out of the way so his parents’ relationship doesn’t take an even worse hit, but the next thing you know, somehow, those two end up hooking up themselves (it’s in the trailer and a major plot point – no spoilers here). This is the main plot point of the script written by Allan Loeb (who is responsible for Collateral Beauty, one of the worst films of 2016). It’s something that is going to understandably feel a bit icky for some viewers, and although it tries to somewhat make us feel better about it with a plot point later on, it still doesn’t quite feel right.
On a technical level, The Only Living Boy in New York is fine, with the cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh capturing New York and its characters well enough. It’s just that the script is a tad too cliched and not as razor sharp or surprising as it thinks it is – especially one particular “surprise twist” you will see coming from a mile away if you’re paying attention at all. Some moments work mainly due to the heavy lifting of Bridges, but these sort of moments are too far and few to really make up for its other issues. Of course, Webb throws in the Simon & Garfunkel song that the film borrows its name from, but unlike its memorable scene-enhancing use in Garden State, its ham-fisted use here didn’t do the song or the film any justice.
Although it’s an uneven film, Webb is still able to get solid performances from all of the actors. Turner is definitely a name to watch, as is Kiersey Clemons who is charming all the way through. Brosnan, Nixon, and Beckinsale are all fine in their roles as well, doing the best that they can from a script that doesn’t leave them all that much to really work with until the eventually messy climax. The real star of the show is Jeff Bridges. The legendary actor makes the most out of a rather stereotypical role, somehow able to give the role a little bit of heart that the rest of the film is severely lacking.
Deep within the core of The Only Living Boy In New York, there’s the framework for a good movie (or maybe that’s just The Graduate). While I didn’t quite buy into many of the plot points or find any of the characters likable, in the hands of a different writer, it may have been more gracefully executed and felt both more believable and authentic.