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THE BOY DOWNSTAIRS (2017) review

February 23, 2018

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written by: Sophie Brooks
produced by: David Brooks, Leon Clarance and Dan Clifton
directed by: Sophie Brooks
rated: PG-13 (PG-13 for some sexual material, brief strong language and drug references)
runtime: 91 min.
U.S. release date: April 23. 2017 (Tribeca Film Festival), February 16, 2018 (NY) & February 23, 2018 (LA)

 

I wanted to like the premise of “The Boy Downstairs”, but the protagonist and the way she was portrayed got in the way of any such enjoyment. That’s not to say I wasn’t intrigued by the premise or that I didn’t like the lead actress – on the countrary, I liked both – just not the way they play out in this film. There’s something about the how the consistently confused protagonist is written and portrayed here, that unfortunately found me losing interest as the story unfolded. The indie rom-com is the feature-length debut from writer/director Sophie Brooks and while it doesn’t thoroughly disappoint, it does winds up being a frustrated viewing experience for a film that ultimately deserves a more relatable and authentic lead for viewers to follow. 

After spending three years living abroad in London in pursuit of a writing career, Diana (Zosia Mamet) returns to New York, searching for an apartment to rent as she gets settled. Within the first ten minutes of the film, Diana’s BFF Gabby (Diana Irvine) hooks her up with a real estate friend of hers, Meg (Sarah Ramos), who shows her a dream apartment (for all we know, it’s the first apartment she’s shown and what are the chances of that?) which she immediately applies for. After an unusually casual sit-down with the widowed landlady, an semi-working actress named Amy (Deidre O’Connor, rounding out the refreshingly predominately female cast), who embraces Diana, literally, and accepts her as a tenant. I’m not sure how she’ll manage to pay rent on the assumedly paltry salary she makes at a local bridal boutique, but that’s not the kind of question that gets answered in a film like this.

Not long after, it becomes clear why the film is called “The Boy Downstairs”, when Diana sees her ex-boyfriend’s name on the mailbox wall of the apartment lobby. Apparently, Ben (Matthew Shear), whom we briefly met in a flashback scene in the film’s first opening minutes, lives in the basement apartment. This leads us to wonder – as does Diana, we can only assume, as she discusses this development with woefully under-written Gabby – how this could happen, considering all of the apartments in New York. It’s hard to not consider this as rom-com fodder, but let’s go along with it just for the sake of curiosity. Of course, one person who is understandably freaked-out is Ben – I mean, think about it from his perspective. So, after the awkward premise is established, where do we go from here? Good question. Diana apparently has never seen “When Harry Met Sally…” and attempts to simply not make a big deal of this to Ben’s face and just befriend him again.

 

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It takes some getting use to the back-and-forth between the flashbacks that show Diana and Ben together and breaking up and the present in which the two don’t know what to do about each other, but that approach is the most fascinating element of the picture. The only defining way to differentiate the separate timelines that Brooks offers is by giving Ben eyeglasses in the past and contacts in the present. If you don’t remember that observation, then you may be at a loss as to where and when the film is taking place since many of the flashbacks are not overtly established. That’s unfortunate considering this device becomes an plot device since most of the details are found within the flashbacks; the film opens with the former couple’s tearful goodbye, and continues to track their six-month courtship from impromptu charming gallery dates and trips upstate to meet the parents (his are cliched, sweet and talkative).

Just like Diana’s sarcastic quips (disguised as attempts at humor) fall flat, most of this film does as well. It’s the kind of comedy where the characters are laughing but viewers are not. Mamet and Shear actors try their to squeeze something out of Brooks script, but it’s a tough task seeing as how they are given one-dimensional characters to portray. I’ve never watched a full episode of “Girls”, which is where Mamet comes from, so I have no idea whether or not she’s playing someone different from the character she’s known for in that HBO show. I just couldn’t understand why she (the daughter of playwright, screenwriter and director David Mamet and actress Lindsay Crouse) kept repeating her lines throughout the film. She presents the same questions to others repeatedly and at times answers her question with the same question, “Do you want me to come down there? I’m coming down there”. That’s just one example. Maybe this is behavior is supposed to be cute, but it pushed me further and further away from her. Again, I don’t know if that’s in Brooks screenplay or if it’s Mamet’s thing, but it becomes not only distracting, but borderline annoying.

It’s hard not to compare “The Boy Downstairs” with other New York dramadies revolving around characters falling in and out of love, especially the works of Noah Baumbach, but the characters here never feel as fleshed out as they are in Baumbach’s films.  It becomes quite tiring to follow Diana and Ben, when their defining characteristics is how utterly directionless and indecisive they are. I’m definitely interested in seeing other work from Mamet and Shears, in hopes of some kind of redemption, since it certainly becomes clear that the material here is a disservice to their talent.

Brooks leaves the outcome and future of Diana and Ben up in the air at the end of “The Boy Downstairs”, which is likely of no interest to the audience, considering they wind up being characters we would rather say goodbye to than catch-up with.

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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