Movie Review: ‘The Only Boy In New York’

Review by Jacquelin Hipes

Twenty-something Thomas (Callum Turner) leads a difficult life, although his problems have a definite upper class bent. His father (Pierce Brosnan), a publishing house executive, has always been distant and hypercritical, a sharp contrast to the manic-depressive affections of his mother (Cynthia Nixon). He lives in a small apartment on the Lower East Side that looks quite homey, but is apparently geographically incompatible with others’ expectations of him. There are also girl troubles: Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), a young woman with whom he had a one night stand, wants to continue their friendship while he yearns for more. An aspiring writer whose ambitions met with paternal discouragement early on, Thomas remains entrenched in a post-collegiate funk of “finding himself”.

The plot really kicks into gear one evening when Thomas and Mimi spot his father out at the same bar with an unknown younger woman, Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). Concerned for his mother’s mental stability, he first sets out to learn more about this stranger, then tries to force her to end the illicit relationship. Thomas is arguably more successful at the former since he winds up entering into an affair with Johanna himself. Throughout all the upheavals and minor tragedies hovers W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges), Thomas’ heavy-drinking, cigar-smoking neighbor, who provides him with timely, often humorous advice.

There is a strong sense of the Hitchcockian—romantic intrigue, secret identities, a loss of innocence—at work in Allan Loeb’s script, with one important distinction. Although selfishness and cluelessness abound in his characters none of them are fundamentally bad people. Their attempts at happiness may compromise chances of a similar outcome for others around them, but even philandering dad Ethan seems to hope everyone can emerge relatively unscathed. Such optimism in the face of increasingly tangled deceptions is quite welcome, if improbable in practice. One quibble would be an unnatural abundance of witticisms and sage observations scattered throughout the dialogue. Those who found Cormac McCarthy’s The Counselor pretentious might lodge a similar, albeit less severe, complaint here.

Great performances distinguish all the members of the main cast. As Thomas’ neighbor, though, Jeff Bridges routinely steals the show. He injects a great deal of humor into the serious proceedings and, at times, voices aloud some of the absurdities silently noted by the viewer. Callum Turner holds his own very well in the strong ensemble. Toeing a realistic line between youth and adulthood, his distinguishing naiveté lends a sympathetic air to those around him.

Marc Webb directs with an assured and indulgent hand. We sometimes view a conversation framed through a distant doorway or window, lending to it a sense of furtive intimacy. Several long takes allow players major and minor to trace the full emotional course of a scene, rather than the flashcards of expression that prevail when too many cuts occur. Rob Simonsen’s score makes for the perfect complement and adds a touch of classic drama to the proceedings. Amidst the references to Soul Cycle and Starbucks a touch of nostalgia endures: for the old New York, for old movies, perhaps even for days made simpler by our ignorance at the time. What’s most refreshing about The Only Living Boy in New York is its conclusion that life’s complications can enhance, rather than diminish, one’s experience of it. We might not always get happy endings in the real world, but it’s a treat to watch a story that reaches for something beyond ever-trendy cynicism in its telling.

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