Were it not for its winning central performance from Girls star Zosia Mamet, supported by a terrific ensemble, The Boy Downstairs would be forgotten midway through the first act, never mind the credits. Lightweight, to say the least, Sophie Brooks’ directorial debut is painstakingly sweet.
Clever title aside, distinction is not the strong suit of this rom-ish-com. The film is admirably frank in its depiction of life but in doing so captures rather too well the mundane reality of a day to day existence. Had Brooks’ characters been a touch more outrageous, such an approach might have better succeeded in exploring their relationships on the base level. Ultimately, not all that much happens here and the absence is felt in deafening swathes of anticlimax.
Mamet plays Diana, a young New Yorker who cuts short her relationship with Matthew Shear’s – unintentionally – boring Ben, when she decides to take advantage of her dual citizenship and spend three years in London. On returning to the States, her hopes for a fresh start are somewhat scuppered by the revelation that her ex lives ‘downstairs’ in the apartment block she’s just rented. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
These two timelines – before and after London – intermingle across the film but go largely without signposts, leaving subtle hits alone to identify the differentiations. It’s a neat point to observe how little can change, adding only to Brooks’ realist aesthetic and helping to bring credibility to the ex-couple’s unfinished relationship. Essentially, Diana’s had a haircut and now eats tomatoes, whilst Ben no longer wears glasses; of course they’re not over each other.
Though the film’s premise feels very mainstream, it’s one handled in a way that almost feels too downbeat for its own good. On learning that her ex is her neighbour, Diana’s reaction is criminally understated. Their first exchange, meanwhile, sits uneasily on the boundary between awkward and stilted: ‘What are you doing in my building?’
Similarly nonchalant, to a fault, are the film’s characters. Beyond the charisma of Mamet’s performance, Diana is an underwritten entity. A wannabe writer, she simply exists here. Ben is an archetypal love interest and appears wholly dull in his succession of check-shirt and white top combos. The script sparkles best when talents such as Deirdre O’Connell and Sarah Ramos are on hand with some genuine flair.
A handful of observational gems are enough to keep The Boy Downstairs from disengagement but Brooks second outing could do with being a tad more exciting.