The Only Living Boy in New York (2017)

Meet Thomas (Callum Turner). Thomas is in love with Mimi (Kiersey Clemons) but even though they had one magical night together (August 8th), Mimi has a boyfriend and isn’t really interested in Thomas like that.

Thomas is estranged from Ethan (Pierce Brosnan) his cold, distant publisher father, who wants nothing more than for Thomas to find a purpose for his life, and concerned over the mental and emotional state of his fragile, clingy mother Judith (Cynthia Nixon). Thomas is also bored in only that way that privileged, self-satisfied young people seem to be able to be bored. New York is too sanitized for him any more. In fact, “New York’s most vibrant neighborhood at the moment is Philadelphia.”

Even though he has no visible means of support besides “some tutoring on the side,” Thomas still has the funds to live in an artfully shabby apartment on the Lower East Side where he meets W.F Gerald (Jeff Bridges) his new neighbor who asks him “psychiatrist questions” about his relationship with Mimi.

He also has the funds for a night out at a fancy restaurant with Mimi. It’s there he discovers that his father is having an affair with Johanna (Kate Beckinsale, wasted as a unicorn  – a manic pixie dream girl over the age of 30).

Both he and Mimi have lifestyles that are flexible enough to allow them to stake out Ethan’s office. From there Thomas follows his father’s mistress, badly, until she confronts him demanding to know why he’s been following her. She knows who he is, of course, and when he threatens to expose her affair with his father she talks him out of it, pointing out to him what the information would do to his mother’s fragile state of mind.

And of course, Thomas reveals all this in a series of long, boozy conversations with W.F. Gerald: His love for Mimi, who doesn’t love him back; his father’s affair; his attraction to his father’s mistress. Gerald’s advice about Mimi: Make her afraid. Make her afraid of not being with him.

Thomas backs off exposing his father’s affair until he sees Johanna accompanying another man at a friend’s wedding. And while he’s venting his outrage about her being a whore because she might be dating more than one man she pushes back. The man she’s with is Gay and closeted for business reasons. She’s not his date; she’s his beard. In the heat of the moment, Thomas kisses her, and she responds.

And thus begins this young man’s torrid, Mrs. Robinson-like affair with his father’s mistress.

Thomas continues to have conversations about life and the world with W.F. Gerald and he gradually pulls away from Mimi, making him all that much more desirable to her.

In the end, of course, it all falls apart. His parents’ marriage, his relationship with Johanna, his relationship with Mimi. Thomas does come out of this period in his life with two good things, one of which is the direction his father so longed for him to have. To reveal the other would spoil the plot’s only minimal hint at tension.

I wanted to like this movie. I really did. But it’s impossible to fall into its lull of the beauty of New York in the early Fall, the gorgeously photographed spaces, and the competent performances by its major players without noticing its shaky foundation.

Every character in it is stock – from Pierce Brosnan’s distant, long suffering father, who has made a lucrative career out of doing work that wasn’t quite his dream, to Cynthia Nixon’s neurotic, uppersomething side society matron who justifies her existence by surrounding herself with artists and writers, you know, people out living life instead of being creative succubi, to Kate Beckinsale’s Johanna who is painted as a tough, grown-ass woman who in reality is nothing but a tool for Thomas to find himself, to Jeff Bridges’ wise and comfortable with his rough edges unexpected mentor.

All of these characters inhabit a gauzy world where everything is fine and it’s perfectly normal for a young man in is 20s with no visible means of support to be at his leisure in the most expensive city in the United States.

Thomas’ life is built on unearned privilege. Most of the things he’s able to do – be at the restaurant where his father’s emotional crime is exposed, cab around Manhattan to get away from whatever scene he’s just participated in, spend time stalking Johanna – he could not do without the advantages he so takes for granted.

And it’s not the fact that he has these advantages that spoil this story. Let’s face it: there are rich people in the world and likely there will always be rich people in the world. What spoils the story is his utter lack of awareness of any other point of view.

Because this is a coming of age story, I suppose that’s to be expected, but haven’t we had enough of rich, white, heterosexual boys learning that their perfect world isn’t what they believe?


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