My guess is that most of us don’t need a reason to skip The Only Living Boy in New York. The title of the film, for one. The college graduate in question is not a “boy,” whatever the Simon & Garfunkel song says. He is a young man who seduces and sleeps with his father’s mistress, many years his senior, while trying to date a girl his own age, who is about to move to the Balkans. There, reason number two. Who in their right mind comes up with a plot so twisted and out of sync with, well, life in America?
And yet there is one reason to recommend this film: Jeff Bridges.
The Dude, now 67, plays a classic supporting role as a typically weird, mostly drunk stranger who inserts himself into the life of Thomas, the “Boy” (Callum Turner). With his goofy smirk and careless charm, this former model from England kept reminding me of a young Richard Gere. Thomas is the nerdy guy who, poor soul, finds himself caught between his dad’s love interest (Kate Beckinsale) and his own, more age-appropriate love interest (a young actress named Kiersey Clemons).
Like countless shaggy-looking, dope-smoking kids with rich fathers pretending to be poor in Bushwick and the Lower East Side, Thomas lacks any and all direction. No wonder, with an arrogant jerk of a father (Pierce Brosnan) and a depressed, self-medicating mother (Cynthia Nixon). So far so bad, it’s true, but that’s where Bridges comes in. As a writer named W.F., he takes control of the film as soon as he walks into the frame. We watch him and only him as he teaches the clueless Thomas some lessons about life, love, and literature. Kate Beckinsale may be hot, Jeff Bridges is wise.
The Oscar-winning actor seems to be having a terrific time, mumbling his way through his scenes. Looking as weathered as ever, he turns out to be the key to the actually somewhat clever mystery hidden in the screenplay. And thankfully, Bridges’ role grows as the film progresses. The reason I didn’t walk out of my screening, after the painful first act, was that the master of the on-screen ‘I-don’t-give-a-damn’ smile kept showing up.
Brosnan gives a sorry performance as Thomas’ dad. Nixon, who supposedly might be running for governor of New York — from Sex and the City to Albany, and why not? — is both long-suffering and insufferable as the Boy’s mom. But Bridges? He is just doing his thing, making the movie worth your time.
Two-thirds of the way in, I had barely laughed. I hadn’t cared or hoped, except for the end. I certainly hadn’t cried. Then Bridges shared a long, lazy scene with Turner at a bar in Brooklyn. The gorgeous light, the heavy silence, the stilted conversation between the two men actually moved me. With a great emotional reach Bridges created magic, just as he did in The Big Lebowski, Iron Man, Crazy Heart and the other films he has graced.
Much like Richard Gere, James Woods (follow that man on Twitter if you don’t yet), and Jon Voight, Bridges is aging well. All of them seem to be getting better as they get older. Indeed, Jeff Bridges is the only man in The Only Living Boy in New York. If the movie is available on your next flight, you might want to watch it — just for Bridges and that bar scene.
The Only Living Boy in New York, directed by Mac Webb, is rated R. It opens Friday, August 11, in limited release.