The Only Living Boy in New York

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What would happen if Marc Webb, the director that gave us the terrific break-up movie 500 Days of Summer, decided to do a version of The Graduate, as if he were Woody Allen? The result would be this film. It’s both a love letter to literature and book stores in New York, as well as the punk clubs (CBGB). So, you throw in more literary references than any movie in the last 10 years; have a dinner party where pretentious elitists sip their wine and complain (an impressive list of dinner guests — Wallace Shawn, Debi Mazar, Anh Duong, Tate Donovan).

My last two complaints of the movie would be the fact that the lead actor Callum Turner (a model who looks like a young, nerdier Richard Gere), is a bit hard to take; and there’s not a single thing in this movie that seemed remotely realistic. None of the characters would’ve done the things they did. Well, aside from the cute girl (Kiersey Clemons from Dope and Neighbors 2) that’s his BFF. She’s put him in the friend-zone after they had one passionate night. But let me explain the story, or what I can without giving away spoilers.

Thomas Webb (Turner) makes his money as a tutor, but longs to be a writer. He’s a bit discouraged when his cosmopolitan dad (Pierce Brosnan), who runs a publishing house, finds his writing merely “serviceable.” He gets on the kid for not finding a real job or living in a better part of town. Luckily, the narrator of this movie is an author (Jeff Bridges), and he moves into the flat right next to Thomas. He gives him encouraging words on his writing, and his love life. Things get a little more complicated when Thomas and Mimi (Clemons) are at a jazz club and he sees his dad with another woman (Kate Beckinsale). This leads to him stalking her, and eventually, jumping into bed with her. Yet the script (written by Allan Loeb of two disappointing movies: Collateral Beauty and The Space Between Us) doesn’t give us a good enough reason for that to happen. Again, it’s one of many things that don’t seem the least bit plausible.

When people talk about the cast, they’re going to probably bring up Brosnan and Bridges, who plays a grizzled author that smokes cigars and drinks too much, and seems like a caring and knowledgeable gent. A lot of other actors wouldn’t have been able to pull that character off. But I’m going to tell you the actor I want to praise most — Cynthia Nixon (Miranda on Sex and the City). When I ran into her at the Critics’ Choice Awards earlier this year, I told her how much I loved her in Lymelife (Alec Baldwin, Timothy Hutton). She’s always great in the films she does, even the bad ones. She plays this fragile character, who may be bipolar, perfectly. Not a hint of overacting, or that typical depressed character that spends most of the movie popping bills and laying in bed. It’s about time Nixon gets put in the same category as Laura Linney, Tilda Swinton, and Julianne Moore. She’s proven to be one of the most underrated actresses in the business.

In my review of The Glass Castle, I mentioned that the family should’ve all been shown with a psychiatrist in the closing credits. The same thing could be said about this crew.

I would’ve prefered a few characters written more sharply. For example, if you make Thomas so dull and angry, the audience understands why Mimi just wants to be friends. And it makes it harder for us to buy that your neighbor, a highly intelligent man, would be so interested in your boring life. He needs to say a little more than “New York’s most vibrant neighborhood at the moment is Philadelphia.”

You can make nerdy characters have some hippness. Jesse Eisenberg did it in Adventureland and The Squid and the Whale. Michael Cera does it in most of his films. There are lots of examples. Instead, he gets the gorgeous mistress of his father in bed and asks…”What was your childhood like?”

I was wondering if he’d ask her favorite color next. In fact, all his scenes with her I found irritating. Nothing about it made a bit of sense. Another example of the frustrating goofiness of parts of this script — a scene where the dad calls Thomas into his office. He sternly says, “Sit down! We need to talk. Now, is there anything you need to tell me?”

At this moment, anybody under the age of 15 (although they shouldn’t be at this, as it’s rated R) would think…Oh no, your dad found out about the affair!

Everyone else knew exactly what it was the dad was going to say. I wondered why the dad wouldn’t have just called his son to scold him on the matter, instead of this cheap ploy to trick the audience.

It’s crazy that I spent this whole review talking about these flaws, but I had to. It’s a cathartic thing for me, because overall, I still had a fun time watching this movie. Perhaps intellectuals will like it more; or perhaps they’ll realize the film takes itself way too seriously. As an average guy that found so many things in it derivative, I still enjoyed it.

There was a sweet, romantic score provided by Rob Simonsen, and the cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh was top-notch.

Bill Camp had a scene as the drunk uncle at a wedding. Again, a cliche scene, but he made it a bit of fun.

The music was great. We heard Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock, and Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna.” Unfortunately, you could barely hear Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” in the background of one scene, but that’s probably good. Too many movies talk about Reed and play his music, as if that automatically gives them hip credibility.

There were a few Simon & Garfunkel songs, including the title track. Problem with that is…despite that being the perfect title for the movie, that song was already featured in the much better Garden State (Zach Braff, Natalie Portman). And this is now the third movie in recent years named after a Simon & Garfunkel song! (along with Obvious Child and Baby Driver). Let’s be more original next time.

This gets 3 stars out of 5.

 

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