Director: Sophie Brooks
Screenplay: Sophie Brooks
Starring: Zosia Mamet, Matthew Shear, Deirdre O'Connell, Sarah Ramos, Diana Irvine
Runtime: 91 Minutes
The Boy Downstairs is what happens when you take a story that feels ripe for the more conventional brand of situational comedy and hijinks but chooses to go about its exploration of the idea in a more sensitive and nuanced way.
Diana (Zosia Mamet) is a young aspiring writer who has just moved back to New York following a few years abroad. She moves into a new apartment under the tenancy of Deirdre O'Connell’s quirky landlord, only to find out to her mortified horror that her ex-boyfriend Ben (Matthew Shear) – who she broke up with in order to leave – lives in the apartment downstairs (Uh oh).
As far as “what are the chances?” storytelling is concerned its not a new concept, but the way in which debut director and writer Sophie Brooks treats the setup is very sweet, light and low-key. Diana isn’t a stalker, but her constant push-pull mechanism with Ben being so close with a new partner wreaks personal havoc on her emotional wellbeing, and certainly doesn’t help by making her come across as someone who could have contrived this situation in the first place.
We’re shown through flashbacks how their relationship played out, and they’re eloquently handled and edited through signifiers such as Ben’s glasses to clarify whether this is the past or the present, even if it does lean a little heavily on Annie Hall. It’s a sad case of events because the reason for why the relationship broke down is so understandably hard to take. There’s no big event or betrayal, just a number of vague incompatibilities and Ben’s stunted unwillingness to take further agency despite his well-meaning attitudes.
It’s made all the sweeter and sadder to watch thanks to Brooks’ ear for natural dialogue and her way of shooting and engaging with exchanges, and helps that it’s being conveyed by a strong set of actors. Zosia Mamet was one of the many breakout talents from Girls, and she’s genuinely charming to watch as she banters with Shear. Same goes for O'Connell’s short-lived turn, and Diana Irvine as BFF Gabby who’s sad taste for callous men should be sending out warning signals.
The Boy Downstairs doesn’t break any new ground, it relies heavily on established techniques and occasional cliché and an ending that feels cut short and a little unsatisfying, but Brooks seems like a competent filmmaker, it’s brief and gentle and Zosia Mamet adds another excellent performance to her roster.