Marc Webb and Allan Loeb‘s The Only Living Boy in New York (Roadside/Amazon, 8.11) is pretty close to awful, I’m afraid. I despised each and every well-heeled, Manhattan-residing character, but that’s a roundabout way of saying I loathed Loeb’s screenplay, which struck me as grating and precious. Okay, I liked the line about Philadelphia being New York City’s most culturally vibrant neighborhood but that’s about it.
Loeb, remember, wrote the execrable Collateral Beauty, a Will Smith grief-recovery film which was also set in flush NYC environs. That touchy-feely ordeal was enough to condemn Loeb to a five-year sentence on a Southern chain gang, side by side with Paul Newman, George Kennedy and the others. Now he’s earned himself a life term on Devil’s Island with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. The man specializes in manipulative emotional goo.
Callum Turner is Thomas, a somewhat whiny, spectacle-wearing, 20something bore who’s attempting a career as a serious writer and who works as a Rizzoli-like book store to make ends meet. [News flash: No New Yorker can make ends meet in Manhattan on a retail-clerk salary. Try Philadelphia, asshole!] Thomas, who bears an extraordinary resemblance to a Northwestern timber wolf, is the son of a mildly imperious book publisher (Pierce Brosnan) and a jittery mom (Cynthia Nixon). Plus he’s in a not-quite-there relationship with Mimi (Kiersey Clemons) who’s pretty and wise but (be honest) chubby and destined for Queen Latifah-like proportions by the time she hits her mid 30s.
Early on a grizzled 60ish alcoholic writer (Jeff Bridges) appears in Thomas’ Lower East Side apartment building and quickly becomes the kid’s avuncular wisdom-dispenser. A scene or two later Thomas and Mimi happen to spot Ethan having a cozy romantic dinner with Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). Alarmed but also a tad aroused, Thomas begins stalking Johanna. They immediately start fencing and parrying, and before you know it Thomas is also putting the high, hard one to Johanna. Why is she open to going stereo with Brosnan’s son? It doesn’t seem to make sense but she goes there regardless, and without telling Brosnan, of course, and so it’s dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick for this mama-san.
And then in Act Three comes a semi-startling piece of news that alters the dynamic between these completely tiresome characters. You don’t want to know, trust me. My main reaction was “what’s with all the secrecy? Is this a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel in which mothers and wives have to hide secrets and atone for decades or at least carry guilt around for their past sins?”
I couldn’t hear a good half of the dialogue because the sound controls and/or the speaker system at the Wilshire Screening Room is shit. No treble or sharpness to speak of. Imagine trying to understand the sentence I just wrote without consonsants. It would sound like “aht means zhard to heahr d’onsonant.”
I really didn’t get Beckinsale having it off with Thomas. If she’s angry at Ethan for having failed to keep a solemn promise or for dropping her or whatever, okay. But nothing like that is mentioned or alluded to.
Did Webb (500 Days of Summer) have to literally play the same-titled Simon & Garfunkel song on the soundtrack? Did the book that Bridges writes have to called “The Only Living Boy in New York”? If only Webb could have included a scene in which the whole ensemble (including Beckinsale) visits an Upper West Side bar with the same name. What about Thomas visiting a men’s clothing store in Soho called — wait for it — THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK?
A friend who saw it with me: “The writing is like Woody Allen after a season in the NFL with no helmet.”
Another friend: “This may sound like a super-trivial point if you hate the movie to begin with, but part of what I liked about the ending is that it tapped into the kinds of secrets a lot of families have that fuck people up (and they don’t even know that it’s the secrets that are fucking them up). None of which made me take the movie too seriously, but it did lend the whole thing a very minor kind of original cohesion.”