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Starting at the point where a traditional romantic comedy would be setting its sights on the finish line, Sophie Brooks’ The Boy Downstairs offers a woman who, having loved a man and broken up with him, is unsettled to learn years later that she’s his new neighbor. A low-key but appealing post-Girls vehicle for Zosia Mamet, the pic may have an unlikely story (in real-world love affairs, this kind of second chance rarely ends happily), but benefits from unusually authentic performances. While it doesn’t necessarily prove Mamet’s potential for carrying a larger film — the ordinariness of this character doesn’t let the actress shine like Shoshanna’s endearing hang-ups did — it should expand her fan base and serve the first-time writer-director well.
Mamet plays Diana, an aspiring writer who, judging from her wardrobe and the apartment she can afford, clearly has some money coming in from Daddy. Returning to New York from three years abroad, she finds a gorgeous spot in a Fort Greene building whose owner, Amy (Deirdre O’Connell), a good-humored “old broad,” takes an immediate liking to her. Settling in, it’s as if she has a fresh new life — until one night she sees her old boyfriend’s name on the mailbox for the ground-floor apartment.
Ben (Matthew Shear) has done all he could to move on after Diana left him for Europe, and is now dating the brittle realtor who showed Diana the apartment (Sarah Ramos, whose reactions get a couple of the film’s larger laughs). But having her thrust back into his life upsets him, and he can’t decide whether to try to win her back or pretend she doesn’t exist.
In long, frequent flashbacks, Brooks’ screenplay shows the pair four years ago, at various stages in a very comfortable-looking relationship. Shear is one of the most convincing Regular Guy boyfriends in recent movie history: Where other supposed Everymen might project an irresistible self-deprecating charm (flattering schlubby viewers who imagine they possess the same), Shear is just a real, vulnerable guy. He’s well matched with Mamet’s Diana, who similarly does not seem ripped from the rom-com playbook. Though she bumbles into some awkward confrontations, Diana is no bundle of comic insecurities waiting for us to laugh at her. (Her creative aspirations, however, do read as rom-com cliche, and don’t ring especially true.)
In the film’s present tense, Brooks moves at a relaxed pace, letting Diana spend time with new buddy Amy and old BFF Gabby (Diana Irvine) while she hopes things wash out so she can start a platonic friendship with Ben. You can probably guess how that goes. But that doesn’t make this easygoing, slightly wish-fulfilling comedy any less enjoyable.
Production companies: Cliffbrook Films, Motion Picture Capital
Cast: Zosia Mamet, Matthew Shear, Deirdre O’Connell, Sarah Ramos, Diana Irvine
Director-screenwriter: Sophie Brooks
Producers: Dan Clifton, David Brooks, Leon Clarance
Executive producer: Paul Brooks
Director of photography: Stefan Weinberger
Production designer: Meredith Lippincott
Costume designer: Keri Langerman
Editor: Matthew Friedman
Composer: David Buckley
Casting directors: Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
Sales: Mikey Schwartz-Wright, UTA
Rated PG-13, 90 minutes
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