“The Only Living Boy in New York” is a lot more intelligent than your typical movie.
Like the lyrics to so many Paul Simon songs—including the song sharing this title—this movie is literate, perceptive and a surprising work of enjoyable entertainment.
Although director Webb has delivered two “Spider-Man” movies, he especially shines with small films. His “(500) Days of Summer” was a gem; everything here is polished to a high luster.
Each of its facets—the writing, editing, cinematography, casting and performances—gleams.
The story is essentially about a family falling apart and a young man struggling to put his future together. Some aspects may remind you of “The Graduate.”
W.F. (Bridges) narrates, but we see everything from Thomas’ (Turner) point of view.
Thomas is trying to find his talent and his voice, and he’s frustrated in every way. He’s in love with Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), but she has a boyfriend and wants to keep things platonic.
Thomas wants to be a writer; his distant father, Ethan (Brosnan), is a successful publisher who finds his son’s best work merely “serviceable.” His mother, Judith (Cynthia Nixon), is fragile, unraveling, hiding her pain in cigarettes, alcohol and dinner parties.
Things get more complex when Thomas finds his dad having an affair with Johanna (Beckinsale), a freelance editor who’s as plain-spoken as she is alluringly beautiful.
At wit’s end, Thomas turns to his new neighbor, W.F., who’s just moved into apartment 2B. W.F. is wise, worldly, drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney. He helps Thomas confront life, make choices; he has confidence in Thomas’ writing ability.
But there are lots of complexities, confusion and confrontations ahead for everyone.
Like some of Woody Allen’s work, this is a love letter to New York City—to both its present and its past. Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography paints the city in blues and grays, with splashes of sunlight that add a sense of joy and possibility, while Thomas and W.F. mourn the city’s losses.
The editing is tight; small montages tucked in along the way serve as brief musical bridges to incoming scenes.
Wit flows naturally; the dialogue is observant, thought-provoking, convincingly delivered.
“You’re not giving life enough credit,” W.F. tells Thomas. “I may be oblivious, but I’m not stupid,” Mimi says. “The farthest distance in life,” his mother tells him, “is between how it is and how you thought it was going to be.”
The small ensemble cast works effortlessly together. Each character has a depth, a sense of individuality and uniqueness that adds dimension to the story and contributes to Thomas’ growing up.
Beckinsale’s Johanna is tough, very bright, magnetic and easy to fall in love with. She knows how life works; she’s trying to make it work for her. Clemons’ Mimi is a joy to watch; fresh, perky, self-assured, she’s a star shooting upward.
Bridges makes W.F. a rough and rumpled life-coach, a crusty guide with sparkling eyes and a rheumy voice who tells the unvarnished truth.
Nixon’s Judith is fragile with sad eyes; she’s a mother and a wife, loving in an insecure, distant way. Brosnan’s Ethan is self-centered, decisive, disappointed, a dad unsure of his role, balancing fatherly support with tough love.
Turner grounds the movie; his lack of personal fame lets him disappear into a character who’s part sheltered geek, part natural storyteller, a young man whose confusion is surpassed only by his sincerity. He’s trying to do the right thing; he’s just not sure what that is, or if it’s possible.
Allan Loeb’s screenplay and Webb’s direction bring richness to every character, each of whom is fully revealed only over time.
And just when you think that everyone’s gotten into situations they can’t possibly get out of, this film pulls it all together in an “aha” moment that adds another level of truth to the characters and a surprising and satisfying twist to the story.
Because there’s a back story behind “the only living boy in New York.”
There’s more here that you ever expected.