“The Only Living Boy in New York” is a movie about white literary New Yorkers. That’s all anyone needs to know about this release from Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios. With all the confidence of a self-assured East Coast elitist, but with none of the bumbling charm Woody Allen had before everyone figured out what a creep he is, “The Only Living Boy” can interest only the miniscule subset of the population whose lives it represents.
Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) is in love with a friend he had sex with once while on MDMA. He’s also obsessively preoccupied with the changes New York has undergone, moaning to everyone who will listen over the loss of “old” New York. In other words, he’s a sad-boy hipster of a new breed — less likely to send that “u up?” text than he would be to hunt down a first-edition copy of Charles Bukowski because he thinks his boozy misogyny is “provocative.”
On a not-date with his not-girlfriend, Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), Thomas spies his father (Pierce Brosnan) wining and dining a woman (Kate Beckinsale) who is not his wife. Dead-set upon protecting his emotionally fragile mother (Cynthia Nixon) from an infidelity-inspired depressive period, Thomas tracks down his father’s mistress, a freelance editor who occasionally works for his father’s publishing house, and promptly begins an affair with her.
Sleeping with the same person his father does complicates his life in ways Thomas does not expect (big surprise). Anchored only by occasional alcohol-fueled tête-à-têtes with his mysterious neighbor W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges), Thomas finds himself adrift in the unbearable, unexpected sadness of adulthood, discovering that sexual intrigues and family dramas are less exciting, less sexy and more depressing than they’re made out to be. A coming-of-age narrative for jaded New Yorkers, “The Only Living Boy in New York” sets out to show its audience that adulthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that even the most seemingly put-together people are falling apart at the seams.
“The Only Living Boy” is a drama with no drama. That is, it’s uninteresting at best, and mind-numbing at worst — as tedious, vacuous and banal as only a movie about the white New York intelligentsia can be. It’s a film so atrocious that it will make you surreptitiously open your phone 45 minutes into the movie to double-check its running time.
The film, written by Allan Loeb and directed by Marc Webb, is so singularly awful that it is difficult to pick out which parts to criticize. For one, its characters are profoundly unrelatable. They’re the New York intellectual elite: successful writers, artists, publishers and editors. Their homes are massive and well-decorated; they own hundreds upon hundreds of books. The events of their lives are so different from the film’s viewers that it all seems absurd, and not even in a poetic or humorous way.
The film’s plot is convoluted and strange; resolution comes suddenly and out of the blue. When the film is funny, it is on accident. Viewers will laugh at its petty intrigues — not because they are in themselves humorous, but because they are ridiculous, far removed from reality and unaware of both of those things.
There’s a particular type of unpleasantness in which movies of this sort seem to specialize. It’s frustrating as a viewer to sit through a film that believes its own rendition of a cliched story is compelling and unique — to have to watch, again, a white male writer struggle over love and literature. We have all seen and read this exact story a hundred times. Unsurprisingly, “The Only Living Boy” offers nothing to our film canon but another young man’s frustrated angst — and goodness knows, we have enough of that.
“The Only Living Boy in New York” is a self-important, self-aggrandizing farce. Moviegoers would be hard-pressed to find a reason to spend money on this masturbatory fantasy of lust among New York’s upper echelons. Simon and Garfunkel do not deserve to have their song — for which this silly film is named — besmirched by a project as hackneyed and tedious as this.
Contact Sarah Elisabeth Coduto at [email protected].