Outside of his work on the two Amazing Spider-Man movies, Marc Webb has made some very good movies over the years, as well as a fistful of great music videos. Beginning with (500) Days of Summer and including Gifted from earlier this year, Webb has a breezy sensibility that never allows a serious subject to become overbearingly so or a lightweight moment to float away from lack of substance. He’s a master of the even keel when it comes to tone, which may be somewhat limiting with more complicated material, including his latest work, The Only Living Boy in New York. But the biggest thing this movie has going against it is writer Allan Loeb, who somehow continues to get work as a screenwriter despite penning some of the worst films in the last 10 years, including The Switch, The Dilemma, Rock of Ages, Just Go With It, Collateral Beauty, and The Space Between Us.
The good news is, The Only Living Boy in New York is better than all of those films, perhaps because of Webb’s involvement. The story concerns a young, privileged white man in New York City, recently out of college and uncertain what he wants to do next with his life. Callum Turner (Green Room, Assassin’s Creed) plays Thomas Webb who seems stuck living a life where he pines for his best friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons from Dope) who has a boyfriend while barely acknowledging that she and Thomas have a connection when they clearly do. Because he’s perpetually unsatisfied despite having been given everything, Thomas is also unhappy with his controlling publisher father Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), while his odd mother, Judith (Cynthia Nixon), smothers him to the point of exhaustion (on my part; this cliche has been done to death).
Then two things happen in Thomas’s life, almost on top of each other, that change him forever. He finds out that his father is having an affair with younger woman named Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), a freelance book editor who works with Ethan from time to time, and he meets his new neighbor, W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges), who seems independently wealthy and loves dishing out sage advice while smoking weed with his new friend. Thomas is the type of person who creates drama in his life so he has something to talk about with the various people in his life, which can be amusing in a film but is usually exceedingly annoying in real life. With this in mind, he confronts Johanna, partly to talk her out of continuing the affair and partly because he find her sexy and alluring. Surprisingly enough, this leads to trouble.
There aren’t a tremendous amount of surprises or even healthy curiosities to ponder when it comes to this film, although the not-random connection between Thomas and W.F. counts as interesting. The strength of the film is in the performances and the direction. Webb is making his version of a Woody Allen movie, without the complexities, and that’s fine with this cast. If it’s possible to moderately enjoy a film while still finding the lead character self-admiring and utterly clueless then that might be my verdict for The Only Living Boy in New York. If you think Thomas is full of self-importance at the beginning of the film, just wait until he starts sleeping with one of the most beautiful women on the planet. The film seems specifically geared toward an audience made up of New Yorkers who are convinced that only those that dwell in their city are capable of self-reflection and deep thought.
But as I said, sitting through the movie certainly was not painful or agonizing for me, but I could easily be convinced it might be for some. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, I realize, and there are easily a dozen movies I’d rather steer you toward, but this cast may peak the interest of a few curious folks, and I wanted to let you know you’d be in a safe space walking into a theater playing it.