The Only Living Boy in New York

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
The Only Living Boy in New York Movie Poster Image
Language, sex, drinking in tale of privilege, coming of age.
  • R
  • 2017
  • 88 minutes

Parents say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Difficult life situations provide writers with great material. "Should" is a dangerous word. "The only way out is through."

Positive role models & representations

Thomas has talent but has been discouraged from pursuing writing by his publisher father, who had wanted to be a writer himself but wasn't talented enough. Resentful and distanced from his disapproving dad, Thomas has a secret affair with his father's mistress. Thomas' parents have a troubled marriage.


Although his first instinct is to violently lash out after his son wrongs him, a man contains his fury out of love. A woman recalls that her father committed suicide when she was young.


Friends recall a one-night stand they had at a time when the girl was dating another man. Kissing. A young man has sex with his father's mistress; no nudity. They're shown lying together in bed afterward. A woman pretends to be a prominent man's date in order to help him hide his sexuality.


"F--k," "s--t."

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Adults drink and smoke cigars, cigarettes, and marijuana. Quaalude use is mentioned. A character is described as an alcoholic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Only Living Boy in New York centers on a privileged 20-something young man (Callum Turner) stepping through to maturity -- although the way he does so involves some iffy judgment. He stalks and then sleeps with his father's mistress. But he also follows his own dreams (writing), despite the fact that his father disapproves. Sexual situations, infidelity, the meaning and responsibilities of parenthood, drinking, and smoking (both cigarettes and marijuana) all play roles as the titular boy struggles to move into manhood. Language is also strong; expect to hear both "f--k" and "s--t." 

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What's the story?

THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK is Thomas (Callum Turner), a college dropout whose wealthy publisher father, Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), disapproves of him and whose fragile mother, Judith (Cynthia Nixon), adores him but mopes over some inner dissatisfaction. A scruffy stranger (Jeff Bridges) moves into Thomas' low-rent apartment building and immediately intrudes on Thomas' intimate life, offering romantic "advice" and hinting at a later-to-be-revealed connection between the two. Thomas, who's been relegated to "friend" status by the girl of his dreams, Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), even after their one-night stand, soon discovers that his father is having an affair with Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), a much younger colleague. Feeling protective of his emotionally delicate mother, Thomas confronts Johanna and promptly begins his own affair with her. Is it payback for his somewhat insensitive father? A cry for attention from the girl who's rejected him? Material for the book he really needs to get to work on? Or is it just his way of unraveling the threads woven around a big family secret?

Is it any good?

This drama is nicely written, but it's far from original. For one thing, the introduction of a mysterious character lamely foreshadows that character's importance. On the plus side, The Only Living Boy in New York deeply echoes the overall feel of Crossing Delancey, in which an aspiring young woman steeped in the literary world of New York bookstores and publishing also makes iffy choices in her complicated love life. And Mike Nichols' revered The Graduate reverberates in Thomas' aimlessness and his affair with an older woman. The Simon and Garfunkel theme song also nods at that earlier (and better) film. But unlike The Graduate, which at least suggested that its society's obsession with success and materialism was part of a larger social crisis, The Only Living Boy in New York dwells not on Thomas' advantages but on his petty concerns. There's no acknowledgment that the New York City allegedly lacking "soul" today probably does so mostly because it's only publishing house owners and successful novelists who can afford to live there. This obliviousness makes the story a little difficult to take seriously.

Obliviousness aside, the movie is a kind of love poem to a certain sector of privileged (or striving-to-be-privileged) New York artists of the sort who used to be mocked in old Woody Allen movies. Characters quote Ezra Pound and do their best to sound both pithy and world weary at dinner parties. Marc Webb, who directed The Amazing Spider-Man but who also does projects with more emotional heft, including the recent Gifted, grounds this film in a reality that it might otherwise be missing had it been based on the script alone. He gives non-problem problems a coat of gravity and coaxes Brosnan and Bridges out of their usual shtick (glib and sagely shambling, respectively). But the revelation here is Turner, an English actor whose American accent is flawless and whose ability to listen and to telegraph subtle emotions on camera makes him a pleasure to watch. The guy is lit from within.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the problems that surface in The Only Living Boy in New York. How do the complicated love lives of the wealthy, as depicted here, compare in importance to some of the dire urban issues affecting other people who live in New York City?

  • How might the movie's tone and context have been different if it was set in rural Texas? Is New York City an indispensable character here?

  • Why do you think Thomas decides to have an affair with his father's mistress? Is it revenge, or is there another reason?

  • How are drinking and drug use depicted? Is substance use glamorized? Are there realistic consequences? Why does that matter?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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