Only Living Boy in New York Feels Like Woody Allen Lite

Movie Review: The Only Living Boy in New York

Marc Webb returns to the world of oddball romance in an underwhelming Woody Allen wannabe that features a dependable A-list cast including Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon and Kate Beckinsale

The Only Living Boy in New York

2.5/5

Starring: Callum Turner, Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons

Directed by: Marc Webb

Running time: 1 hr 28 mins

MPAA Rating: Restricted

By Katherine Monk

In the continuing summer of movies with titles derived from Paul Simon songs, The Only Living Boy in New York is definitely the B-side of Baby Driver and the poor cousin of The Obvious Child.

An average film with an above-average cast, this latest film from director Marc Webb has grand ambitions of spinning a romantic coming-of-age tale with just enough intrigue to keep us guessing, just enough heart to make us care, and just enough irony to appear cool.

It’s not an easy feat, but Webb pulled it off in his feature debut, 500 Days of Summer, a wonky romance starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The movie had a knack for finding the sweetness in male pining, and the honest frustration with fickle female affection. It’s the reason why Webb landed the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man reboots, and perhaps, it’s also one of the reasons why they were close to unwatchable.

Webb has a sappy side, and if it’s allowed to run, it makes everything a little too sticky.

Such is the problem with The Only Living Boy in New York, a movie that feels like a candy bar you left in your back pocket on a hot day. It’s got a great package thanks to the marquis talents of Cynthia Nixon, Pierce Brosnan, Kate Beckinsale and Jeff Bridges, but in Webb’s eager clutches, it turns to sweet mush.

Webb has a sappy side, and if it’s allowed to run, it makes everything a little too sticky.

The core of that mush is Thomas (Callum Turner), a kid who just graduated from college and is trying to make his own way in the big apple — without the help of his affluent parents. His father (Pierce Brosnan) is a successful publisher, and his mother (Cynthia Nixon) is a manic-depressive art-lover who smokes too much but hosts artsy dinner parties with the local intelligentsia.

Thomas is all gooey over a girl (Kiersey Clemons) who just wants to be friends, because like all young men in this type of movie, he’s lacking confidence. He needs a manly mentor, and within the first ten minutes, he gets one in the form of W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges). W.F. lives in the same building, in apartment 2B — and that’s just the beginning of the laboured literary references.

Answering this modern-day Hamlet’s big questions is the man in 2B’s forte.  He says things like “find a window, and bounce,” or “life is as random or deliberate as you want it to be,” or “ah yes, Fahrenheit 185, the perfect temperature to cook heroin.” W.F. seems to know everything, and he also knows a lot about Thomas — who cozies up to this surrogate father figure in a few seconds flat, because who wouldn’t want a literate version of The Big Lebowski telling you how to get lucky with the ladies.

It’s all a bit too tidy, too predictably twee, to land any authentic punches. But that doesn’t mean The Only Living Boy in New York isn’t entertaining. Thanks to the stellar cast, who collectively decide to throw themselves into the froth, we get enough substantial drama to keep us watching, even though so much of Allan Loeb’s (The Space Between Us) script bumps up against cliche, or worse, affectation.

It’s all a bit too tidy, too predictably twee, to land any authentic punches. But that doesn’t mean The Only Living Boy in New York isn’t entertaining. Thanks to the stellar cast, who collectively decide to throw themselves into the froth, we get enough substantial drama to keep us watching, even though so much of Allan Loeb’s (The Space Between Us) script bumps up against cliche, or worse, affectation.

Whether it’s the New York milieu, or the mere presence of a goofy protagonist in tortoise shell glasses, but it’s hard to shake the idea that this is attempting some brand of Woody Allen comedy, only without the intelligence or the accompanying neurosis.

It’s looking to be Squid and the Whale, The Graduate and Manhattan. But in the end, it might as well be an episode of Friends because the malaise doesn’t go all that deep. Thomas doesn’t suffer existential pain. He just wants the girl — or a girl. He’s not even sure which girl he wants — the one who asked him to be friends, or the one who’s been sleeping with his father.

English actor Callum Turner finds his inner Jesse Eisenberg and Kate Beckinsale pulls out her dependable femme fatale while Pierce Brosnan accesses his handsome older man reservoir of riches. The best turns come from Nixon, who isn’t on screen nearly enough, and from Bridges — who transforms this damp collection of previous screen incarnations into something semi-interesting.

The performances bring depth to an otherwise shallow effort constructed from what I can only call “New York City genre” — movies that exploit the Big Apple’s natural textures and rich history in a bid to look sophisticated. Like a dullard who frequents jazz clubs hoping the stench of Gitanes and a Blue Note cocktail napkin will lend him a sense of cool. Loeb and Webb use Dylan tunes and Paul Simon lyrics to rewrite The Catcher in the Rye for the 21st century.

It’s all trying so hard to be something it’s not that it finally betrays it’s own message. Thomas is terrified of being average, and so is this movie. If both had accepted their true ordinariness, The Only Living Boy in New York could have been special. It could have even been a contender, instead of a frustrating wannabe.

Photo above: Callum Turner and Jeff Bridges in Marc Webb’s Only Living Boy in New York. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

@katherinemonk

THE EX-PRESS, August 25, 2017

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Review: The Only Living Boy in New York

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Summary

2.5Score

The Only Living Boy in New York (3/5) – The summer of movies with titles from Paul Simon songs continues… Marc Webb made a little movie called 500 Days of Summer. And it went huge. Then he directed two of the worst Spider-Man movies ever made. The Only Living Boy in New York finds the director returning to the land of small-scale romance and coming-of-age issues with this script from Allan Loeb that tries to do everything. From parental infidelity to father-son bonding to boy-meets-girl pain, The Only Living Boy in New York leaves no brownstone unturned in its bid to make us touch us. Sadly, it feels more like getting panhandled – by a storyteller desperate for validation. On the up side, we get Jeff Bridges playing a pot-smoking mentor who writes novels, Cynthia Nixon as a manic-depressive spouse on the Upper East Side who smokes too much, Pierce Brosnan as the detached husband with a younger girlfriend, and Kate Beckinsale as the roving object of desire. Callum Turner is the young man seeking his rite of passage, but like everything in this film, it feels like the average student’s take on Woody Allen. You need palpable neurosis for New York stories to really work, and this one feels a little too pedestrian in its depiction of nutty. -- Katherine Monk

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