London Film Festival: ‘The Boy Downstairs’ Review

It’s festival season! The FilmSoc blog is covering the BFI’s 61st London Film Festival (4-15 October), diving into the myriad of films and events on offer to deliver reviews.

Leonora Bowers takes a look at Sophie Brooks’ mumblecore romance-comedy.

The Boy Downstairs is the debut feature-length work from its writer and director, Sophie Brooks. Set in central New York, it tells the story of Diana (Zosia Mamet), an aspiring writer who returns to the city after several years in London, only to find that her seemingly perfect new flat comes with one hitch: her ex-boyfriend Ben (Matthew Shear) as a downstairs neighbour.

Despite a fairly typical premise for a romantic comedy, The Boy Downstairs manages to tell its story in a style that is both fresh and endearing. The film captures the essence of life in the artistic world of New York, and boasts an assortment of lovable characters – from Diana’s naïve and unlucky-in-love best friend Gabby (Diana Irvine), to her landlady (Dierdre O’Connell), an independent and eccentric former actress who readily dispenses advice and whatever drink the situation calls for. Diana’s kooky nature and offbeat sense of humour don’t detract from her passion as she strives to make headway as a writer, and she makes a strong and engaging lead.

While ruffled to learn she is now living in close quarters with her ex, Diana is even more disconcerted to find he is now dating Meg (Sarah Ramos), the lofty estate agent who showed her the apartment in the first place. Their values and personalities predictably do not mesh, and while it remains relatively low-key, the conflict between these two is certainly key to some of the film’s comedic high points.

Ben comes across as one of the more two-dimensional characters in the film, which is unfortunate for such a major presence. Beyond his charming gawkiness and his past relationship with Diana, not much is revealed about his life, allowing it to seem – on a narrative level – as though he only exists as Diana’s romantic interest. In fact, the whole relationship between the two of them feels somewhat lacking; at times their interactions reach disproportionate levels of uncomfortableness, and even when the conversation would be expected to flow easily, the chemistry isn’t quite there.

Nevertheless, it isn’t difficult to root for the couple. Throughout the film, the complicated nature of their past relationship and subsequent break-up is gradually revealed through flashbacks, beginning with their last meeting before cycling back through their six-month relationship and ending with their breakup. These scenes provide an effective contrast with the progression of their present lives. Diana and Ben have very different ideas about how to move forward from their situation, and the story is just as much about their resolving how to have a relationship as it is about the romance itself.

Interspersed with adorably cliché moments – a first date picnic on a boat, an interactive art exhibit, dinner at a little Italian restaurant – what makes this film unique is the way the characters are so delightfully convincing. The fairly classic plot and indie style lead to almost tangible social tension, and the breakup scene evokes very raw sadness and regret. While it may not be a rollercoaster ride, The Boy Downstairs is enjoyable and easy to watch, with enough rise and fall to keep it captivating.

The Boy Downstairs premieres on October 14th in the UK at London Film Festival.

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