For a film about authors, The Only Living Boy in New York could use a couple more rewrites. Instead, this examination of fractured families through the eyes of stuffy artistic types is more pretentious than profound.
The latest example of aristocratic New Yorkers lamenting about failed relationships doesn’t do justice to either Woody Allen or to the eponymous Simon & Garfunkel tune on the soundtrack.
The story centers on Thomas (Callum Turner), an aspiring novelist waiting for his breakthrough as he deals with a host of personal issues. His even-keeled girlfriend (Kiersey Clemons) seems reluctant to commit. His mother (Cynthia Nixon) is struggling with mental illness. And his overbearing father (Pierce Brosnan) is a fledgling book publisher involved in an affair with a subordinate (Kate Beckinsale), prompting Thomas to seek both revenge and approval.
Then there’s W.F. (Jeff Bridges), an alcoholic neighbor in Thomas’ apartment building who dispenses pearls of wisdom while lamenting about the city’s literary scene. His motives remain cloudy as he harbors secrets about his past.
There are some intriguing character dynamics in the screenplay by Allan Loeb (Collateral Beauty), although it’s difficult to connect with the film’s batch of self-absorbed writers and schemers, most notably Thomas, despite his many relatable qualities. He’s slightly awkward, somewhat charming, moderately intellectual, and rather uncertain about what he wants to do with his life. But does that mean we root for him?
Bridges is engaging as the sage busybody, mostly through his sardonic narration. His performance adds a layer of subtlety that effectively masks his inner turmoil, although the dime-store philosophy gradually turns from amusing to annoying. “He’s surrendered too much of his past to give up on his future,” he theorizes about Thomas.
As directed by Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer), you wish The Only Living Boy in New York conveyed a better sense of time and place. Instead, Manhattan is talked about more than seen, with a rant about the city’s gentrification during an early dinner-party sequence providing a highlight.
A third-act twist tries to steer the entire narrative in an almost arbitrary — and unfortunately sentimental — new direction, except that the film never earns its desired emotional payoff. Despite a few compelling chapters, the result winds up as shallow and superficial as its characters.