'The Only Living Boy in New York': What This World Needs Now

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires film critic
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Call me a hopeless romantic. It's my excuse for liking and recommending to kindred spirits director Marc Webb's decidedly imperfect, melodramatic and oft soap-operatic "The Only Living Boy in New York." 
 
My justification is in service to the rather dire straits in which our nation currently finds itself. Quite plainly, to coin a phrase, what this world needs now is love, sweet love. And while this coming-of-age tale doesn't completely fill said need, it does supply that second-best commodity: sappiness. 
 
It's sophisticated sappiness, but sappiness all the same.
 
In cosmopolitan Manhattan, Thomas Webb, the twenty-something son of elite, Upper West Side brownstone dwellers, searches for his destiny whilst roughing it on the Lower East Side and trying to win the charms of otherwise spoken-for beauty, Mimi (Kiersey Clemons). His bigtime publisher dad, Ethan, portrayed by Pierce Brosnan, is a standoffish highbrow. So it only follows in good hackneyed form that his mom, Judith, played by Cynthia Nixon, is a fragile, hothouse flower of a beauty prone to depression on a moment's notice. Such is Thomas's cross to bear.
 
There's enough snob appeal here to go around, and y'know what? Adding to my hopeless romanticism, I'm probably more of a fop than I care to admit. I kind of like these people. Seen through the correctly adjusting social filters, their demeanor and assumed station, whether East Side Silk Stocking sorts or our more demure West Siders, isn't a bad way to be rich. The better of the bunch are intelligent, educated, well-mannered and, whether through noblesse oblige, hobby, true empathy or a combination thereof, dedicated to charitable works.
 
Thomas, a recent college grad, is intellectually more or less OK with all that, but nonetheless needs to splatter his given heritage with a raging of youthful cynicism and perfunctory objection. Dad just wishes the kid would get on with it already. But, it becomes increasingly apparent as the saga unravels that, in this update, intentional or not, of the social and personal forces that bewildered Dustin Hoffman's Ben Braddock in "The Graduate" (1967), Thomas has to experience his watershed of rebellion and grand indecisiveness before joining the herd.
 
If you remember, you guys lucky enough to have experienced that time in the crucible of identity crisis, it's a pretty tough and rather dark period through which to navigate. You are sure everything going forward depends on it. Therefore, mentors, whether a gaggle of Seven Dwarf types in a neighborhood bar, a graduate school professor, or, for want of a better description, the fairy godfather who literally shows up on Thomas's doorstep, can be consoling and helpful. 
 
Here, add to my hopeless romanticism and foppishness that I'm as corny as Kansas in August. While it's supposed to be a mystery just who Jeff Bridges's W.F. Gerald is, I suspect that viewers more familiar with such soapy fare might know right off the bat the identity of the hard-drinking, kindly, philosophical guy who moves in just upstairs from Thomas. Which is probably why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will intentionally overlook this stellar performance. Packing an inestimable amount of scholarship, Zeitgeist, psychology and kindliness into his character, Bridges again proves he is a national treasure.
 
We look forward to W.F.'s pontifications, tacitly hoping that in his tutorials to a self-disparaging Thomas we will gather some chestnuts of philosophy that perhaps eluded us on our own road to find out stuff. Oh, to have his counsel ... a wise old philosopher to help sort through the countless mysteries that can flummox a young man trepidatiously dipping his toe into adulthood. Plus, he's entertaining as heck, and quick with a yarn to shed light on whatever perplexity rears its ugly cloud. In this enamoring respect, Bridges nearly steals the show, and it's just as well.
 
Fact is, while the plot does provide a bit of calculable intrigue and the main players adequately sketch their stereotypes, it's Bridges' catalytic charm that supplies the poetry necessary to put the film a cut above the commonplace theatric it might have been. Otherwise, Callum Turner is appropriately likeable as Thomas; Pierce Brosnan is credible as his patrician dad; Cynthia Nixon is solid as the vulnerable mom; and Kate Beckinsale as the beautiful Johanna is chillingly vampish as a pivotal character whose morality I won't divulge.
 
I've been here before ... apologist for a movie I know full well is not snootily smart, enticingly cutting edge or apt to be discussed ad nauseam over lattes in the bohemian coffee house of your choice. But it does sweetly speak to the quandaries implicit in our humanity with little pretense. 
 
And while its self-effacing but nonetheless loving look at the Manhattan milieu in which it takes place is, in Woody Allen fashion, but a convenient fiction, I like that place. All of which is why I may be one of the only living critics who applauds "The Only Living Boy in New York."
 
"The Only Living Boy in New York," rated R, is a Roadside Attractions release directed by Marc Webb and stars Callum Turner, Jeff Bridges and Kate Beckinsale. Running time: 88 minutes
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