“The Only Living Boy in New York” is about writers and publishers and much hinges on the use of a deflating word to describe an early literary effort. That word, “serviceable,” applies to the film itself. This is your standard-issue, coming-of-age story and it hits every expected beat: New York City setting, climatic running in the rain, the song with the same name as the movie playing, a wise voiceover delivered by a wise mysterious alcoholic mentor, lots of action taking place in bookstores, etc.
Turns out, I guess I like those standard-issue beats. I like when the narrator reads us the book he is writing in voiceover — the writer is played by Jeff Bridges — and I like scenes in bookstores. Bridges plays an attractively rumpled alcoholic who moves into the Lower East Side apartment building of our young protagonist, Thomas (Callum Turner), who is semi-slumming it on a somewhat less nice part of town in a mild form of protest against his successful parents, played by Cynthia Nixon and Pierce Brosnan.
Thomas’s strained relationship with his parents is pretty half-baked, and we are simply informed of it by the over-written voiceover. In the absence of a solid connection with his father, Thomas is ripe for receiving advice from that interesting neighbor of his, and some of the film’s most unbelievable lines are delivered by my poor, dear Jeff Bridges, who chugs wine and fires off a series of absolutely ludicrous truisms and preposterous words of wisdom, sounding like Yoda via Tom Waits. That actually sounds better than it was.
Spurned into the dreaded “friend zone” by the bewitching and self-possessed Mimi (Kiersey Clemons) Thomas soon finds an even less likely object of lust when he spots his haughty dad snuggled up with a gorgeous woman named Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). Here things take a “The Graduate”-esque turn, when Thomas pursues Johanna in order to break up the affair that he fears will devastate his fragile mother. Johanna’s reasons for taking up with Thomas are less clear, as she and the events of the film claim that she loves his father. She initially displays a sociopathic flirtatiousness that could have proven a more interesting character if she had stayed weird.
Beckinsale and the rest of the adult cast could master this material in their sleep. Jeff Bridges valiantly portrays himself while Brosnan is the typical aloof dad, rendered more so by his crisp British accent. Then, after a first half marked by generic nostalgia for CBGB and other phoned-in markers of authenticity, not to mention unspecified parental strife that is not really explained, we are treated to a veritable buffet of speedy plot twists and lots and lots of explanation.
In an effort to tie things up, characters run around admitting decades-old secrets, and everything that seemed to be a coincidence is most definitely not. It’s shocking, it’s obvious. It’s shockingly obvious. By the end of the film, every action leading up to the conclusion is explained and justified in a way that is both genuinely surprising and remarkably contrived.
And yet, despite its manifest flaws, I didn’t hate “The Only Living Boy in New York.” It has so many cheesy elements, even a novel that of course ends up being called “The Only Living Boy in New York” that is also read aloud in voiceover, and a tidy “One Year Later” coda full of even more unlikely contrivances. It was so cheesy, but I guess sometimes you just find yourself in the mood for cheese.
“The Only Living Boy in New York” is currently available to rent.
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