Kiersey Clemons as Mimi, Callum Turner as Thomas
Among the books and records
This is a film I absolutely loved when I chanced upon it the other night. Somehow we have been unsuspectingly subscribing to Amazon Prime since May…so, we thought we had better put it to good use before we terminated the service. With The Only Living Boy in New York, director Marc Webb returns us to the always fascinating streets of New York City where we are treated with quick fire repartee that I’ve always loved and associated with its people.
There’s a tonal signature that ties this film together with films of a certain ilk: it’s populated with characters from a Woody Allen film of the late 80s, with the pace of a Ferrara 0film from the 90s, the enticement of a Sex and the City episode and a could-be companion to the more recent My Salinger Year (2020) - another film that focuses on one of my favourite pastimes, writing.
Callum Turner is perfectly cast as young Thomas Webb, a recent college drop-out who has always wanted to be a writer. He’s working in a bookshop, reading and hanging out most of the time, much to the chagrin of his literary agent cum publishing father, the very urbane but not quite three-piece-suit-wearing Ethan (Pierce Brosnan reprising his ‘Ghostwriter’ demeanour). Thomas is secretly (or rather, not-so-secretly) in love with his best friend, Mimi, played by the delightful Kiersey Clemons, who works in a record store and is about to travel abroad (to Croatia) to further her studies, oh, and let’s not forget to mention that they had a one night stand not too long ago and, of course, Ethan now wants to take things a little further.
Jeff Bridges as W.F.
After she gives him the “I’d rather be friends” speech, Thomas returns to his bedsit and meets W. F., his new neighbour who was literally able to read young Thomas like a book; this scene is terrifically played by Jeff Bridges (who looks a little like David Lynch throughout the film), the good-willed older neighbour who asks a bunch of overly familiar questions. With this rather odd introduction, some uncomfortable prying questions, it ends with W.F. shouting to Thomas’ departing figure to come over “and let your neighbour help you out”...”I’m in apartment 2B!” With the uncanny thought of “to be, or not to be” still ringing in our ears, an unlikely friendship begins.
Further developments ensue, with Thomas encountering his father and his beautiful mistress Johanna (Kate Beckinsale) at a bar one night, and a little fascinated by this interlude, (think Freud’s primal scene) he decides to tail her. At first Mimi tagged along, but before long, Johanna became his obsession.
Whilst this is a narrative that is a little clichéd and may have done the circuit a few times; here Webb’s story unfolds charmingly, with the narrative weaving in and out of songs from the 70s. We are treated to a back-story through the lens of Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel to be precise and with some classic Lou Reed, Brubeck, Bill Evans, Charlie Mingus and Hancock thrown in for good measure. I even loved hearing the classic Whiter Shade of Pale, it made me think of that episode of Northern Exposure from many years ago (FTWK). In addition to the treasure trove of songs that take you down memory lane, the story has heart. It was also good to see Cynthia Nixon as Thomas’s mother, Judith, and know now that there’s life after her embodiment of Miranda Hobbes in Sex and the City for 12 years.
Whilst Webb’s pedigree is from the well-known Spiderman franchise, I thought his stand-out film was in fact a non-spidey film Gifted (2017), made around the same time as this film, and similarly paced as well. Smaller, less grandiose, and more relatable. The escapism comes from being able to walk the streets with its citizens, and having a glimpse of the their lives.
There’s little point in revealing plot advances or it’s denouement. You’ll have to go along for the ride to find out. As a perfect long weekend film to be enjoyed bringing with it a touch of 80s Woody Allen, and a lot of nostalgia for the Big Apple.
The Only Living Boy in New York is currently showing on Amazon Prime.