The Only Living Boy In New York

By the director of (500) Days Of Summer

The Only Living Boy In New York is the first film that Marc Webb has directed since (500) Days Of Summer – yes, eight years ago – in which you can really feel the prickly pulse of his sensibility. It’s like The Graduate recast as a glibly literate slacker comedy with an entangled kink or two.

Poster for the coming-of-age drama The Only Living Boy In New YorkThe hero, Thomas Webb (Callum Turner), is a gently acerbic rebel preppie who is spending his life figuring out what he wants to do with his life.

His father, Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), runs a publishing imprint he built from the ground up, and he keeps asking Thomas why he’s wasting his time living on the downscale Lower East Side. But the way it looks to us, Thomas gets to live on the Lower East Side and, when he feels like it, slum with his parents in their Upper West Side brownstone. He gets to attend tony literary parties and dither his way toward a profession.

One day, when he’s out with Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), a tart-tongued beauty who’s already slipped into the let’s-just-be-friends zone, he spies his father kissing a woman other than his wife. He trails the mysterious mistress (Kate Beckinsale) like a stalker-detective, and finds himself powerfully attracted to her. It all sounds a bit sordid (sharing a paramour with your dad!), but for Thomas it’s a way of acting out the resentment he feels toward the icy remote father who has never respected his literary ambitions.

It’s also a way of growing up. The catalyst for Thomas’s adventures is W.F. Gerald, a mysterious all-knowing alcoholic neighbour played with gruffly jaded glee by Jeff Bridges, who befriends Thomas on the stairwell of their apartment building and invites him up for a drink. W.F.’s apartment is empty except for a table and chairs and a liquor bottle; that seems to be all he needs, but he also claims to be wealthy. He coaxes the kid to reveal himself, and since W.F. comes on like a coach, therapist, anything-goes libertine philosopher chum and surrogate dad all rolled into one, it doesn’t take long before Thomas is doing just that.

Bridges, with a growl of whisky and cigarettes and a world-weary pensée for every occasion, makes W.F. compelling company. The other actors are good too – Brosnan as the arrogant cosmopolitan father, Cynthia Nixon as his vulnerable in-the-dark wife, and Beckinsale, combative and alluring. But it’s Callum Turner who makes his mark; tall and handsome in a neurasthenic, milky-pale way, he’s pensive but quick, with a gift for playing awkward situations that don’t leave the audience feeling awkward.

As a filmmaker, Marc Webb knows how to inflect well-crafted scenes with a personal touch. Though it’s less punchy and original than (500) Days of Summer, it’s still a wry tale that deserves to be seen. W.F. keeps telling Thomas that life should be a mess, but in The Only Living Boy In New York it’s a pleasingly witty and well-observed one.

– Owen Gleiberman, Variety
 

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