The Only Living Boy in New York
Jacob Richardson | 27/09/2017
Burdened by the weight of it’s own self-importance, The Only Living Boy in New York feels hedonistic and wrong, exclusive to only a club of rich white socialites. Even so, a charismatic performance from Jeff Bridges and a twist-laden plot will keep you interested, and affected, enough to overlook all but the most egregious of cliches.
Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) is adrift in New York City after his recent graduation, and his repeated failure to turn his relationship with Mimi Pastori (Kiersey Clemons) into something more than a friendship. He runs into his new neighbour, W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges) - an unsuccessful writer, who proves the perfect foil for the unanticipated earthquake of turmoil in Thomas’s life that is Johanna (Kate Beckinsale); a beautiful art dealer who is not only his father’s mistress, but inevitably becomes the source of his own desire.
The Only Living Boy in New York is an undoubtedly pretentious film. It concerns itself with the struggle of rich white writers in their incredibly opulent homes and offices. Thomas is disgusted by his father (Pierce Brosnan), and the betrayal of his mother (Cynthia Dixon), who is tremendously fragile after her rocky upbringing, but insists on sleeping with this supposed harlot nonetheless; something that is surely just a chore for him, and from which he can derive no pleasure. Our protagonist is burdened with unrealised, dormant writing talent, an affair with a beautiful older woman, a family that loves him dearly and a position in, seemingly, New York’s elite.
It’s tough, then, to truly sympathise with a young man for whom “struggle” seems a foreign word. Indeed, this entire A-plot wanders a thin line between antagonistically entitled and genuinely cared for, and while Marc Webb’s film never goes too far towards the former, it remains as a niggle in the audience conscious; regularly underscoring moments of tension or dramaticism with the faint whisper of a thought about how utterly ridiculous this all is.
Luckily, throughout it all we have Bridges, who is the illuminator of the film. His aspiring author, initially just a minor character who acts more as a sounding board for Thomas’s mental struggle but later so much more, is a whimsical, protective and intriguing force in what would otherwise be a relatively dull film. Bridges, dressed like a grizzled David Lynch (and with the hair to prove it), is a beautiful fixture of the film. Inhabiting picturesque New York locations, and always with a cigar stub hanging artfully from his lips, the man brings a nuance and charm to the otherwise often lifeless film. He breathes life into the picture, in much the same way that he ignites Thomas’ long-dormant passion for writing.
Not unsurprisingly, the twists around his mystery character are also the most satisfying, and when the A-plot largely falls away, we are left with a much more intriguing premise, grounded in the identity of Bridge’s writer. And while it’s a shame that the majority of the movie isn’t as engaging, it’s also potentially unavoidable; the initial parts of this familial drama act as a tremendous disguise for the reveals in the third act, lending them that much more weight when they do land.
The Only Living Boy in New York is also a beautiful film, shot with some incredible vivacity by Stuart Dryburgh, who not only manages to create the aura of luxury around these locations, but also infuses a number of shots with vibrant, physical colour. It’s a juxtaposition that works well, and underscores the choices Thomas needs to make between his role models; should he step into the creatively bankrupt (and, in Dryburgh’s camera, greyscale) world of his father, or should he take the leap into the colourful, smoke-filled, intoxicating world of literary prowess that his new neighbour, and his long-time muse, represent.
The Only Living Boy in New York, for the first hour, looks set to be just another plodding, self-obsessed, privileged family drama. But talent, much like Thomas’s, lies dormant, and the back-half of this movie capitalizes on vibrant cinematography and a perfectly cast Bridges to elevate the film, giving us something worth watching.