A charismatic lead performance and some witty observational comedy can’t quite elevate this solid romantic comedy.
What is it about the city of New York when it comes to romantic comedies? Many of the most beloved films of the genre, from Annie Hall, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and When Harry Met Sally are just a few of the celebrated movies that pay homage to the big apple. Clearly inspired by those that came before it, The Boy Downstairs is the first film written and directed by Sophie Brooks.
Zosia Mamet (best known for her role in the HBO series Girls) is Diana, who is moving back to New York after a few years abroad in London. Ready to restart her life, she has found the perfect Brooklyn apartment. But Brooks, working some traditional rom-com magic, has a trick up her sleeve: on her first night in her new home, she discovers her ex-boyfriend Ben (Matthew Shear) is living downstairs in the same building! Diana makes her intentions immediately known to her ex: she is not interested in a romantic relationship, and only wants to rekindle a friendship. Impressively, Brook’s device of playing the former lovers in the same house is a unique device for a tired genre, and it certainly allows the film to head in a few unexpected directions. For better or worse, however, The Boy Downstairs goes pretty much exactly where you expect it to.
One of the most frustrating aspects of The Boy Downstairs is its dismissal of reality. Sure, the rom-com genre demands a certain level of disbelief, but the film seems to pride itself on a degree of realism not usually found in the genre. Why, then, can Diana work as a shop assistant in a bridal shop and afford a stunning and very large apartment in Brooklyn on her own? Money is an unavoidable issue in this day and age, particularly for twenty-somethings, and the fact that affordability is never once mentioned is nothing short of peculiar. The film clearly tries to deliver a level of authenticity, but by glossing over what would surely be an enormous factor in Diana’s life is disappointing.
That being said, Mamet is magnetic in the lead role. Brooks wisely elicits a lot of Mamet’s performance that made her character in Girls so memorable, but this still feels like a completely different character. Diana is a funny and fascinating character, and Mamet’s performance helps the film get past some of the clunkier scenes.
The Boy Downstairs is an interesting addition to the ever-growing romantic comedy canon. There is a lot of comedy to be found, and Brooks script does some good work mining humour in everyday human behaviour. There’s a good amount to enjoy here, but the film doesn’t quite do enough to break out enough to really stand out.