Arts movie review

The Only Living Boy in New York is a serviceable film

Stop trying to be The Graduate — it doesn’t work

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Callum Turner and Kate Beckinsale in The Only Living Boy in New York.
Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions


The Only Living Boy in New York

Directed by Marc Webb

Written by Allan Loeb

Starring Callum Turner, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons, and Jeff Bridges

Rated R, Now Playing

The Only Living Boy in New York has a soundtrack with Simon and Garfunkel (and the title of one of my favorite songs) and a nerdy protagonist who sleeps with a seductive, older woman. Our hero is trying to figure out what to do with his life.

Oh wait. That sounds like The Graduate.  

But our protagonist Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) is no Benjamin Braddock, the honest-to-goodness graduate who tries desperately to be what he is: honest and good. Therein lies the problem: infuse melodrama, push plot twist after plot twist, and The Only Living Boy becomes more and more predictable, because ironically, while Benjamin is the puppet unwittingly seduced by Mrs. Robinson, Thomas’s choices are fueled by narrative and a need for drama; Thomas is no living boy.

We find Thomas Webb, a recent college graduate, chasing after his friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons). He reluctantly consults his neighbor (Jeff Bridges) for his sagely advice, only to end up realizing he actually desires more than Mimi. He discovers his father (Pierce Brosnan) has secretly been cheating on his mother with his mistress, Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). Thomas follows Johanna to stop her relationship with his father, only to fall in love with her and learn about the secret circumstances of his family.

What made the absurdity of The Graduate work was its straightforwardness, empathy, and honesty, because the absurd moments in life merely happen as they are, not as what we hope them to be. Thomas and Johanna are forgettable and receive little of the compassion we feel for Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson because they behave as cogs of dramatic tension. Heightening the absurd coincidences makes them feel artificial.

Perhaps the only reason I don’t rate this lower is, strangely, I kind of liked the film. The aesthetically gorgeous, glossy film choreography and the actors who made the best of poor writing give the film a seductive charm that is easy to fall for. But when I see Mimi crying in the rain after — surprise! — she finds out Thomas lied and had actually slept with Johanna, the melodrama gnaws at me. She accuses Thomas of “being one of them.” “Them” is vague since there were no two, clear sides to begin with, but I suspect it refers to the people who, perhaps wisely, chose the convenient, monetary side rather than the artistic, tragic one.

And what a big lie it is, because there are no sides. This isn’t West Egg versus East Egg, the nouveau riche versus old money. Nothing spoken or done is as it seems. The florid narration is but a farce: just because you have a publisher as a surrogate father, just because your neighbor is your eccentric Yoda-figure, just because art and literature pervade this New York, does not mean the film is about writing, or art, or growing up. These people are so far removed from reality that they live in artificiality. I can’t tell you much about Thomas because the plot is all I know about Thomas. People here do and say what they never mean, and they never act in a way that tells us anything about themselves.

The Only Living Boy in New York is a misnomer, because within this film, no one is truly living, let alone a single boy. The Graduate’s Mrs. Robinson forever remains in my mind, but I won’t be seeing visions of Johanna any time soon.