Marc Webb’s debut, (500) Days of Summer, was a strong start to his mainstream career. The film – a dissection of love lost through the eyes of an unreliable narrator played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt- not only skewered the idea of how a romance can play out, but gave us a male lead who, in Gordon-Levitt’s own words, was ‘mildly delusional’ and ‘selfish’. With The Only Living Boy in New York, Webb returns to look at the state of the fragile male ego, but delivers none of the disarming charm he had previously.
Callum Turner (Green Room) plays Timothy, a trust fund twenty-something trying to play rough and ready in downtown New York. Dropping out of college and refusing support from his well to do parents, Timothy spends his time tutoring Spanish and pining after his close friend, Mimi (Kiersey Clemens, Dope). When Timothy spies his father (Pierce Brosnan) out on the town with a woman called Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), who is not his mother, he becomes obsessed with trying to find out who she is. After some heavy-duty stalking, Timothy not only makes contact with Johanna, but begins an affair with her as well. Throw into the mix Jeff Bridges as Timothy’s supportive and understanding neighbour, W.F. Gerald, and this has all the potential of being at least a fairly diverting drama.
After the lukewarm response to The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, it’s no wonder that Webb returns to more grounded affair with this tale from screenwriter Allan Loeb (21, The Switch). It’s no wonder, but it is a major surprise as to why he chose this particular tale. There is nothing wrong with Webb’s direction, it’s perfectly suited for the kind of picture he’s trying to paint. If (500) Days of Summer was a romantic breakdown told as a fairy-tale, then The Only Living Boy is the sombre recollection when the dust has settled. That’s all fine. What’s not fine is the screenplay upon which Webb has chosen to hang his visuals.
The Only Living Boy in New York is a grating affair from Bridges’ opening monologue, on the death of New York’s soul, through to the rushed ending that prides itself on throwing you a curve ball that comes too late in the day. When we meet Timothy, we’re guaranteed that this is a coming of age tale and the young man’s view of life will alter once he’s had some good old-fashioned life lessons. However, Timothy is hard to root for when he consistently pesters Mimi for sex claiming she wants to but doesn’t realise it, and, to reiterate, stalks Johanna till she eventually sleeps with him. Sexual aggression does not a hero make. At times, The Only Living Boy in New York feels like it was written by American Psycho‘s Bret Easton Ellis, and you’re just waiting to find out where Timothy has been hiding the bodies.
Elsewhere, his lover Johanna is set up to be a strong woman in charge of her love life before being quickly thrown under the bus and punished for what she chooses to do. Mimi, meanwhile, is quickly portrayed as a tease who just needs to be treated mean in order for her to see the light. It’s as problematic as it sounds. Even more so when Johanna, Mimi and Timothy’s mother (Cynthia Nixon) are given off-screen resolutions come the film’s denouement.
And it’s all a crying shame, as there is a good cast here trying so hard to make Loeb’s flowery dialogue mean something. This goes doubly for Bridges who, alongside Clemens, provides the only real relief through the whole interminable affair. Loeb perhaps would have been wiser to focus on the relationship between W.F. and Timothy; a blending of old and new outlooks on life where one ends up influencing the other. It certainly would have justified the pathos in the final act.
Borrowing heavily from The Graduate, which was probably very deliberate, The Only Living Boy in New York is a monument to navel-gazing and self-pity that will test the patience of the most dogged of audience members.
THE REEL SCORE: 3/10