The Only Living Boy in New York (2017)

235 The Only Living Boy in New York

It’s tough but true: the 1960s and The Graduate (1967) will never happen again. Although the title of The Only Living Boy in New York (2017) is a nod to the iconic romantic comedy that was immortalised in music by Simon and Garfunkel, this new film is more of a twisty Woody Allen-style coming-of-age story about growing up in contemporary America. Same theme, different tune.

The film’s key narrative device rests on a young man meeting a stranger who is writing a book based on the young man’s life as it unfolds in real time. Twenty-something and nerdish, Thomas (Callum Turner) wants to be a writer and knows that he must experience the pain of living before he can write seriously. He has decided that beautiful Mimi (Kiersey Ciemons) is his one true love based on one night in bed but for her it was a bit of fun with a close friend. Thomas finds a stranger called W.F. (Jeff Bridges) sitting on his stairs who offers wise counsel despite efforts to avoid him. Soon W.F. is his muse and mentor and Thomas shares everything of his life and dreams. When Thomas discovers that his father Ethan (Pierce Brosnan) is having an affair, his worldview is shattered. He stalks the lover Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), confronts her, and ends up in her bed. It transpires that every relationship in Thomas’ life is not what he thought it was. Welcome to adulthood.

Calling the film Woody Allen-esque is shorthand for a storytelling style that depends on angst-laden whimsy. Thomas is a likeable boy whose emotional fragility is a result of family wealth, middle-class breeding, and graduate education, so it’s faintly pleasurable to witness his shocked awakening to how relationships work in the real world.  What happens is nowhere near as significant to the film as how the characters react to unexpected change and the role of the mysterious W.F. Young Tom’s loss of innocence is followed by a primitive masculine urge, just as his father’s reaction to his infidelity being discovered is to exert brute force over others.  While emotional worlds are cracking, W.F. listens and counsels, like an ancient omniscient narrator who also seems to shape the storyline as we watch. When his book is finished, so is the story except for a final twist that reveals who he is.

Stylishly filmed and well-acted by a stellar ensemble, the film is also an exposé of privileged life in New York, with enough insider jokes and cultural references to make most audiences feel like they are outside looking in. No doubt the glasshouse effect is intended, as it is possible to stay interested but disconnected from its characters and their feelings. If you prefer action-based movies, there is not a lot happening here. But if you enjoy a nostalgic revisit to early adulthood accompanied by evocative music in an urban bohemian setting, there is enough to keep you engaged in the movie until its satisfyingly unexpected finale.


Director:  Marc Webb

Stars:  Callum Turner, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Jeff Bridges, Kiersey Ciemons, Cynthia Nixon