The Boy Downstairs | Sophie Brooks | Tribeca Film Festival 2017
Making a romantic comedy these days seems pretty difficult. How do you make it fresh? There are so many tropes and cliches that so many rom-coms ultimately fall back on. The Boy Downstairs mostly figures out how to stay ahead of these moments. It‘s one of the better examples of a modern romantic comedy that I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s genuinely funny, sweet, awkward, and it ultimately feels genuine.
Writer-director Sophie Brooks tells the story of Diana (Girls‘ Zosia Mamet); a young woman who moves into her new Brooklyn apartment after being overseas in London for three years. On the first night of moving in, she glances over at her mailbox to see that her ex-boyfriend Ben (Matthew Shear) is also a current resident of the building. Of course, she immediately runs into him, and a hilariously awkward exchange ensues. The film has many of these moments, penned sharply and realistically by Brooks.
Diana at first tries to avoid Ben and his new girlfriend Meg (Sarah Ramos), but fails at almost every turn. She claims that she only wants to be friendly with Ben, but we the audience, know better. Diana’s profession as a writer comes to a halt with Ben’s reappearance in her life. She tries to distract herself by frequently meeting up with her best friend Gabby (Diana Irvine), but usually ends up coming back to the apartment building thinking about Ben. Diana also sparks up a friendship with her older landlord Amy (Deirdre O’Connell), in whom she confides.
Throughout the film, flashbacks show exactly what happened between Ben and Diana four years prior. These scenes are full of little life moments and genuinely sweet relationship stages that many modern couples could relate to. You get a glimpse into their past relationship, and it makes the film much stronger for it. You feel for these two characters who were just never given time to really settle down and be truly happy with each other. Regret and fear of failure are the huge driving forces in The Boy Downstairs.
Matthew Shear gives a great and affecting performance as Ben. He plays Ben with a heart-on-his-sleeve sensitivity. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a romantic lead this genuinely nice, charming and likable. Through the flashbacks, you get an idea of why Ben is so weary of Diana wanting to be friends with him again. In the present, Diana feels painfully guilty about what happened between them, and you can feel it in Zosia Mamet’s performance. It mirrors what a lot of modern dating feels like.
It brings the modern dating anxiety to the forefront, especially when paths diverge. Relationships are complicated these days, and a lot of young people would rather end the connection to avoid pain down the road. It’s a common fear, and The Boy Downstairs doesn’t shy away from that overwhelming sense of dread that things might go wrong. The film comes to a head with two very honest and rather heartbreaking scenes of Ben and Diana finally going over their fears and regrets of the past.
The film is a lean and clever look at a relationship that could have been. The writing is sharp and witty, and the chemistry between the two leads is undeniable, which makes for a better film overall. It balances the tender and bittersweet moments with some great comedic moments. It’s a New York City romantic comedy, through and through. It showcases the sometimes absurd, lonely, and desperate aspects of the NYC dating culture. It subverts expectations and leaves some subtlety to its ending. There’s no “running to the airport” sequence or anything of the sort in this movie. It’s just a fairly realistic take on the fear that can ruin great and life-changing relationships.
Overall, it’s one of the best romantic comedies I’ve seen in the past few years. The main leads don’t have ridiculous jobs, crazy parents, or overly quirky best friends. They act like a seemingly “normal” couple, with fears, doubts, and questions about the future. I enjoyed The Boy Downstairs a lot more than I thought I would, and I’d highly recommend it. It may not be a great date movie, but it should be known as a testament to relationships in 2017.
(A release date is currently pending, but more information can be found on the Facebook page.)