Thomas Webb (Callum Turner, "Queen & Country," "Green Room") wants to be a writer, something his publisher father Ethan (Pierce Brosnan) hasn't encouraged. He wants to date Mimi Pastori (Kiersey Clemons, "Dope"), but she's labeled him a friend. Return to his Lower East Side apartment after Mimi's emphatically rejected him, he meets rumpled alcoholic W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges) sitting on his stairs and the older man becomes a mentor to "The Only Living Boy in New York."
Director Marc Webb ("500 Days of Summer," "The Amazing Spider-Man") returns to his romcom roots with Allan Loeb's ("The Space Between Us") Woody Allenesque screenplay about infidelity, guilt, finding one's path and nostalgia for a New York City that no longer is. The film also explores how we perceive our parents and how their revealed secrets can upend one's worldview. But in attempting to pull all his plot strands together with a neat bow, Loeb sacrifices two characters' happiness, one undeserving of the fate, the other's actions inexplicable.
As W.F. advises Thomas on how to win Mimi's heart, we note the two's similar appearance, W.F. a possible future version of his protege. The ambitious Mimi doesn't quite buy Thomas's reason for being stuck in place, the young man insistent on staying close to his bipolar, depressive mother Judith (Cynthia Nixon) who adores him. Things take an unexpected turn when, one night out clubbing with Mimi, Thomas spies his dad take a table with a beautiful stranger. Johanna (Kate Beckinsale) is obviously his mistress and W.F. prods the boy, who's been telling himself he's stalking her to tell her to drop his dad, into admitting his own amorous interest in her. When Johanna confronts him on the street, the two end up falling into her bed.
Thomas is clearly oedipal, attacking the man who judged his writing serviceable,' but we're left to ponder Johanna's motivations as she repeatedly declares her true love for Ethan, something Beckinsale's otherwise sharp performance fails to illuminate. Turner is fine as the confused young man (and gets off one hell of a line at one of his mom's dinner parties), but it is Bridges and Brosnan who make the largest impressions, one frustrated by his son's choices, the other encouraging them. Clemons also scores as the discarded object of Thomas's affections, her interest building as his diminishes. The film also stars "Parting Glance's" John Bolger as a wealthy closeted gay man and Bill Camp as Uncle Buster. Judith's dinner party table seats the likes of Wallace Shawn, Tate Donovan, Debi Mazar and Anh Duong.
Webb's film encompasses the more privileged New York neighborhoods as W.F.'s narration mourns the loss of The Bottom Line, 'probably a Soul Cycle now, the only soul the city has left.' His comments will be echoed by Judith, upset that the old CBGB's is now a John Varvatos shop. The film's classic score (Rob Simonsen, "Foxcatcher") is complemented with tracks from Dave Brubeck Quartet, Charles Mingus, Lou Reed and, of course, the titular Simon & Garfunkel song.
"The Only Living Boy in New York" is an engaging enough romcom, but its predestination and the conflicted Johanna deny liftoff.
Robin did not see this film.
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