Marc Webb’s The Only Living Boy in New York is a film that mimics a modern literary piece, and for good reason. Yet, much like other fanciful, dramatic comedies one could either be swept up in the winding tale of self-understanding or could sigh in disbelief at the contrived nature of the whole ordeal.
Webb’s exploration of family and relationships follows Thomas (Callum Turner), a recent college graduate trying to form his own path in the streets of New York, whilst avoiding the coattails of his upper west-end parents (Pierce Brosnan and Cynthia Nixon). However, what follows is an unraveling of this dynamic, as he becomes tangled up with his alcoholic neighbour (Jeff Bridges) and his father’s mistress (Kate Beckingsale), resulting in a calamity of confrontations and realisations.
As with a well-written book, where the narrative comes more and more into the realm of reality with every turn of the page, each frame of Webb’s film breathes more life into its characters. They are all fallible, adrift and richly intertwined with each other, making the performances and characters the strongest element of the movie. Bridges is a tour de force as the enigmatic, flâneur-like neighbour and Turner effortlessly injects both vulnerability and naïve arrogance into the titular role of ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’.
However, even though the ‘boy’ himself is heavily present, New York is not. The world-famous city is surprisingly absent on the screen, presented mainly in dialogue, but otherwise kept in the background. For such a grand urban landscape, one can’t help but feel that the filmmakers missed an opportunity in showcasing the city’s potential as another major role in the film, interwoven into the development of the drama. Instead, Webb focuses on a close up of city life, sacrificing the benefit of a wider angle to construct a more character-driven narrative. The direction is subsequently serviceable, nothing particularly refreshing or original, but effective enough to frame the story as the film’s focus.
The Only Living Boy in New York is a compelling portrayal of human interactions with a realistic conclusion to a coming-of-age film, but in order to enjoy the ride one has to be invested in the characters and their flawed nature. Webb’s film will hence create a division in its audience, leaving some satisfied, like myself, and others underwhelmed and craving a bigger picture.