Reel Estate

In 'The Only Living Boy in New York,' the city's most vibrant neighborhood is Philadelphia

By Kelly Kreth  |
September 26, 2017 - 3:00PM

When a movie has "New York" in its title, odds are it will include some discussion of the city's real estate. After all, what topic is more on the tip of most New Yorkers' tongues? The Only Living Boy in New York, which is now in select theaters and will be available to stream starting October 20th, comes through in this regard, in spades. A drama starring Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon and Jeff Bridges, the movie is on the mark with discussions about the gentrification, albeit discussions among liberal elites. 

At the film's start, the viewer is told that New York has changed, has lost its soul. The setting is a fancy get-together in an Upper West Side townhouse owned by Ethan Webb (played by Pierce Brosnan), a failed writer-turned-publishing magnate and his depressed wife Judith, (played by Cynthia Nixon), a former artist. 

"There's a John Varvatos where CBGBs used to be," Judith tells the assembled wealthy guests.


Thomas in the family townhouse with his mom.


More from the dinner party in which NYC's "soulless" future is discussed.

The couple's angsty, 20-something son Thomas adds, "New York City's most vibrant neighborhood at the moment is Philadelphia."

It goes on like this.

"If I wanted to be a writer we'd be having this conversation in a two-bedroom in Bushwick," one guest quips. Another, more informed attendee responds, "Bushwick is expensive now!" 

"Something in New York is missing," yet another one percenter whines.  

Sadly, something in this movie is also missing. The chatter about the changing city resonates, but the contrived plot does not. 

When Thomas (played by Callum Turner), son of Judith and Ethan, finds out his father is having an affair with a stunner who we later find out is named Johanna (played by Kate Beckinsale), he and his crush Mimi (who works in one of the city's last remaining mom-and-pop bookstores) follow Johanna. Thomas confronts her and tries to convince her to stop seeing his father, saying that his mother would be devastated.  

Johanna, a London-born publishing freelancer—the daughter of bankers, naturally—lives where we'd expect.

While her exact neighborhood isn't shown, her gym is on MacDougal Street and her walk home takes her through SoHo. Her bedroom is neat and her bed is made with sumptuous linens. 


Kate Beckinsale as the film's femme fatale.

Things get even more complicated when Thomas starts his own affair with her.

Though the plot is wholly unrealistic, Thomas's Lower East Side walk-up digs are on par with where a recent grad with parental help would reside. So much so that his parents try to convince him to move a bit closer to home, offering to pay the difference on a nicer apartment as an incentive.


Thomas walking around his new neighborhood.

One day Thomas arrives home to find a new neighbor, W.F. Gerald (played by Jeff Bridges), in the stairwell, and he's only too eager to pry into Thomas's business. Many a New Yorker has encountered the snoopy neighbor type, but most of us are smart enough not to go into the stranger's apartment, drink wine, and spill intimate details of our lives. Not Thomas, though.

When Thomas remarks that his unkempt new friend is basically living in an empty unit, Julian explains he has another apartment in Brooklyn. A pied-a-terre a few miles away?

As we later find out, W.F. is actually a famous writer using the Manhattan location to hide out while he writes his next book. His real home is near Hoyt Street, which maybe makes sense, somehow?

Ultimately this coming-of-age story not only charts Thomas's evolution, but New York City's. Unfortunately, though, like Thomas, who Gerald describes as wanting "something more here," the viewer is left wanting a bit more, too.

Real estate reality score (on a scale of 1-5): 4


Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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