Director: Sophie Brooks
Cast: Zosia Mamet, Matthew Shear, Deirdre O’Connell
Watch The Boy Downstairs online in the UK: iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / Google Play
Girls’ Zosia Mamet gets a chance to shine in the lead role of this low-key romantic comedy. The title suggests a meet-cute just waiting to happen, but The Boy Downstairs steps that scenario up a level to something more complicated: what if the cute boy downstairs from your flat actually turns out to be your ex?
That’s what happens to Diana (Mamet), who moves into a New York apartment as she tries to get her life in order – only to find that Ben (Shear) is currently occupying the ground floor. Ben, we learn, is her former flame, a partner she jettisoned when she moved from New York to London several years ago. London, though, turns out not to have worked, and so she finds herself back on familiar territory – in many ways, a little too familiar.
Mamet is fantastic as the conflicted, confused adult trying to kick-start her career as a writer. She’s a coming-of-age movie wrapped into one person, able to move from the young optimism of a new romance to the pained moment when she realises that the relationship isn’t going to last. Shear is less involving as Ben, who remains mostly in the same gear of slightly detached, played more for goofy awkwardness than In-depth emotion – perhaps a sign of how wounded he was by their history.
When we first meet him again, he’s now living with Meg (Sarah Ramos), who helped Diana get the flat, before finding out about their past. Ramos is both amusingly and believably paranoid about the way that Diana is “hanging around” the building where they all live – you wonder what it would be like if the movie focused more on their fledgling friendship than Diana’s love life. Shear and Mamet, though, have a convincing chemistry that remains consistent throughout the modern scenes and the flashbacks that connect them – visible proof that even over time, some things don’t change.
Deirdre O’Connell’s world-weary landlady brings some welcome laughs, and some wise perspective, while Diana Irvine enjoys herself as BFF Gabby, who has terrible taste in men. But the overall film’s lack of hysterical jokes works in its favour; this is a subtler, more heartfelt tale than a fest of one-liners, placing more emphasis on people and mood than the screenplay’s gag rate. Debut Director Sophie Brooks, also on writing duty, doesn’t do anything visually impressive, but she crafts a tale that understands the awkwardness of in-person meetings at the wrong time, the tedium of parties where there are no promising prospects, and the frustration of feelings that linger long paste their sell by date. It’s an uneven effort, with a lack of social media that dates it somewhat, but it makes up for a lack of originality with an abundance of messy reality. Look forward to hearing more from both Brooks and Mamet in the future.