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Review: The Only Living Boy in New York (2017)

The Only Living Boy in New York (2017)

Directed by: Marc Webb

Premise: A recent college graduate (Callum Turner) discovers that his father (Pierce Brosnan) is having an affair. He makes contact with his father’s mistress (Kate Beckinsale) and eventually begins his own affair with her while contemplating his next move.  

What Works: The Only Living Boy in New York is well cast and the actors do the best job they can with the material. The film is led by Callum Turner as Thomas, a recent college graduate who is unsure what he wants to do with his life. The character is full of young adult angst and Turner conveys the character’s uncertainty but without becoming obnoxious. Jeff Bridges is cast as a wise and mysterious neighbor who offers advice to Thomas; Bridges has played this kind of role before and he does it well. Kate Beckinsale is cast as the other woman and she makes the mistress more than a sex object. Beckinsale projects intelligence as well as sexuality and offers flashes of depth into the character. The best story element of The Only Living Boy in New York is the relationship between Thomas and Mimi, a college student played by Kiersey Clemons. The two of them are close but they aren’t officially involved and the two actors play the nebulousness of their relationship convincingly.

What Doesn’t: The Only Living Boy in New York pines after The Graduate, replicating many of that film’s plot points and even borrowing the name of a Simon & Garfunkel song for its title, but this is nowhere near Mike Nichols’ 1967 film. The Graduate was a master class in youthful angst and dark humor with an incisive look at social decadence and the gulf between our expectations and the realities of life. The filmmakers of The Only Living Boy in New York clearly want their film to be The Graduate for a 2017 audience and they put their lead character through similar paces, namely an affair with an older woman, but they miss exactly what made The Graduate a profound cinematic experience. And that is precisely the problem with this movie. The filmmakers of The Only Living Boy in New York carry on as though they have an Important Message and the movie stinks of pretension. The Only Living Boy in New York was written by Allan Loeb, whose previous screenwriting efforts include disasters such as Collateral Beauty and The Switch. Loeb is a writer who confuses whimsy with idiocy and the ideas of his stories have the depth of a freshman philosophy student who’s just discovered Friedrich Nietzsche. The characters speak in trite platitudinous dialogue that’s supposed to sound witty and insightful but actually means nothing. The story is a web of clichés. The Only Living Boy in New York is another movie about a starving artist living in New York City although he’s not really starving and he’s not much of an artist. His parents are well off and the movie never actually shows us the young man doing the work of a writer. The filmmakers also seem to think they are being radical or enlightened in the way that they critique the traditional family structure. Here too the filmmakers have nothing interesting to say. The film suggests that infidelity is actually a path to enlightenment and it conveniently skips over the betrayal and heartbreak involved. This film is especially disingenuous in its gender politics. The filmmakers think their picture is sex positive and progressively feminist but it isn’t. Rather than the overt sexism of a Michael Bay movie, this is the soft sexism of pseudo-progressive beta-males who see women as objects but are polite about it. The Only Living Boy in New York finally flies apart in its ending. The film concludes on a preposterous revelation that is supposed to tie everything together in a profound bow but instead it exposes the stupidity at the heart of the movie.

Bottom Line: The Only Living Boy in New York desperately wants to be The Graduate but it’s not even American Pie. This is a coming of age story in which the character learns nothing and all the ideas in this movie are shallow and insincere.

Episode: #663 (September 3, 2017)