Like Father, Like Son (Film Review: “The Only Living Boy in New York”)


An all-star cast tells a classic story about fathers and sons, the cost of keeping secrets, and the consequences that arise from defying forbidden family taboos.



SnapShot Plot

The Only Living Boy in New York is the kind of movie that – although familiar in character and even predictable in plot twist – is still compelling by virtue of a fine ensemble cast, an always alluring New York City as a backdrop and an ethos, a thinking person’s script, and the lyrical musical score centerpieced by the Simon & Garfunkel song from which it gets its title.

Thomas Webb (played by Brit actor and former model, Callum Tuner) is an angry young man from a fashionable uptown neighborhood slumming it downtown in a half-hearted act of rebellion against his father Ethan (Pierce Brosnan) the successful head of a reputable publishing house that bears his name. Thomas is filled with youthful angst about his future career choice, as well as his unrequited passion for a lovely aspiring writer named Mimi (Kiersey Clemons). Mimi’s own feelings for Thomas, however, exist on a purely platonic terrain, to which he bitingly tells her, “Pretty girls like to recruit their rejections and call them friends.”

Thomas’ mother Judith (in a finely nuanced turn by Cynthia Nixon) suffers from some murkily referenced chronic depressive disorder, which is eased by throwing cerebral dinner parties at their impressive townhouse. They are attended by the sort of intellectual New Yorkers who make charitable donations to PBS and NPR, and who have season tickets to the Met and like to be seen at the latest avant garde artist exhibitions in SoHo. Its at these dinner table conversations that we quickly grasp the dysfunction within the Webb family and the pervasive sense of disappointment and resentment residing in both father and son. More interesting though, is this glimpse of a segment of society that (according to the film) seems to be dying out: the quintessential New York intellectual world of letters that is fading fast as the social fabric of the city succumbs to vapid mediocrity and consumerism.

One day, a stranger appears on the stairwell of Thomas’s building, introducing himself as W.F. Gerald and immediately ingratiates himself into Thomas’s life, becoming his confidant and relationship mentor. Jeff Bridges plays the role with his own delightful blend of flippant disregard and earnest charm. To Thomas, however, the man remains a mystery almost to the end. When Thomas spots his father canoodling with a beautiful woman, his outrage (on his mother’s behalf) turns into curiosity, which in turns borders on obsession. The woman in question, Johanna (Kate Beckinsale) seems to know more about him than he knows about himself. Of course, a dangerous love triangle ensues, with father and son pitched precariously across from each other, Johanna in the middle, and Judith off to the side but never far from mind. Is the mystery of W.F. Gerald somewhere in the diagram, too?



Parting Shot

The Only Living Boy in New York, although an Amazon Studios release, sat on the shelf for 12 years with a script by Allan Loeb that many considered one of the best unmade movies around. Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer; The Amazing Spider-Man) went through several stops and starts, as well as castings, before finally making this picture last year.  The movie looks great, due in no small part to the meticulous work of Production Designer David Gropman and Location Manager Kip Myers, who scoured the city to find the perfect locations that reflected the mood inherent in the script, especially as it related to the changing persona of New York City. That’s why each scene was actually shot in its appropriate neighborhood as stated in the film.

The plot has its obvious roots in Greek tragedy. The father and son in love with the same woman rings of Oedipus, although this story falls quite short of the patricide and incest inherent in the Sophocles play. I see an homage to the early films of Woody Allen here, particularly Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and Her Sisters, the latter especially in terms of the literary milieu in which the Webbs and their contemporaries exist. And with the Simon & Garfunkel song resonant in the background fabric of the movie, it’s impossible not to see this as (like Allen’s films) a love letter to New York. It’s also, of course, about the consequences of our actions, family loyalty, forgiveness, and ultimately, growing up.

The Only Living Boy in New York is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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