'The Only Living Boy in New York'
Director Marc Webb was mistakenly considered an indie darling after the inexplicably overrated ‘(500) Days of Summer’. That and the pun of his name landed him the job directing ‘Spider-Man’ movies so bad that Sony needed to reboot the franchise again when he was done. Now Webb is back doing crappy dramedies again.
‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ opens with a long, wordy monologue grumbled by Jeff Bridges about how New York has lost its soul and authenticity through the last few decades of Disney gentrification. The words aren’t wrong, but the placement is questionable. The film that delivers a wealthy Manhattanite fantasy of poetically troubled rich white pricks pontificating in the streets is exactly the sort of empty faux intellectual nonsense that the people who sucked the soul from the city love. The fact that people like those who made this movie also claim to be the last bastion of great New York culture is part of the problem.
But I digress. It would be easy to pick apart the problems in every scene of ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’, and one paragraph dedicated to the failings of the opening monologue is already a step in the wrong direction. Let’s speed things up. The lonely boy living in New York is Thomas (Callum Turner), the self-absorbed son of the head of a publishing house (Pierce Brosnan) and his occasionally suicidal wife (Cynthia Nixon). Thomas is desperate to be a writer, but doesn’t have the confidence, so he spends his time brooding. Mostly that brooding is about Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), a girl he’s deeply in love with but who will only return his affection with friendship (the horror!). He also gets obsessed with his father’s mistress when he discovers her and she looks like Kate Beckinsale. Thomas monologues his angst to the audience and a mysterious new neighbor played by Jeff Bridges. The old guy becomes oddly committed to helping the young guy out, even if it means passively encouraging an affair with the mistress. Holy Freud, Batman! These New Yawkers are cwazy!
Basically, the movie is about a collection of hopelessly self-absorbed and inexplicably wealthy New York nutjobs. You know, the kind of thing Woody Allen can’t stop himself from making every year. Unfortunately, screenwriter Allan Loeb (‘Collateral Beauty’, ‘Rock of Ages’) can’t even manage a fraction of the humor and insight of a late career Woody Allen failure. It’s hard to ever care about any of the characters’ problems and the solutions prove to be so melodramatic and predictable that it’s not worth forcing investment. There’s a big secret twist coming, though not the one that initially seems to be ham-fistedly barreling towards the audience. Credit to Loeb that he misdirects one big dumb twist with a different slightly less stupid one. That at least accounts for the movie’s lone surprise.
At 88-minutes, ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ feels too rushed for its attempt at a multi-generational tapestry about people too smart to know when love is looking at them. It feels like the film was mercilessly slashed in the editing room. Webb doesn’t get to force in his patented music video visuals, managing only the occasional montage. Admittedly, the director has a talent for casting (even Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were perfectly paired in his ‘Spider-Man’ disasters; they were just underserved by horrible writing) and pulls together an impressive crop of names here. They’re hurt by the rushed running time, though, never getting a chance to properly develop beyond their posed personas. Even when Jeff Bridges (who mumbles and jets out his jaw in distracting ways) nails a big emotional transition with impressive grace, it’s hard to feel for him because everything around him is too arch and too choppy to deserve emotional investment.
By the time the title track plays and feels like the most unfortunately obvious music cue in film history, many viewers will feel like rising out of their seats to revolt against the screen, and they’ll be right to do it. ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ is a perfect snapshot of the type of navel-gazing-as-art that sucks up too many resources in the indie filmmaking community despite the fact that virtually no one actually enjoys this nonsense. Not even the over-privileged arty brainiacs that make up the target audience will be able to stomach the movie. The fact that it exists is entirely a product of nostalgia.
This is a project conceived by people who think that ‘Manhattan’ is a masterpiece for its wistful romanticism because they’ve never looked past the surface and just appreciate feeling smart for getting some of the references. It’s a deep dive into the empty souls of neurotic New Yorkers by people so coddled by that crowd that they don’t actually understand what the problems are. In short, it’s one of the worst movies that will hit screens this year. The only silver lining is that the movie is also so out of touch that few will actually suffer through it.