The Boy Downstairs

Dir and writer: Sophie Brooks
Cast: Zosia Mamet, Matthew Shear, Deirdre O’Connell, Sarah Ramos, Diana Irvine
90 mins, USA, 2018

Sophie Brooks’s low-budget debut offers a quirky feminised (not exactly feminist) version of the New York chattering classes romcom, with Zosia Mamet as existentially-challenged would-be writer Diana and Matthew Shear as ex-boyfriend Benjamin.

Still thankful for my lucky escape the other day in deciding not to take my mother-in-law to see Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, in which the final scene shows our unhappy 17th century protagonist getting both his arms hacked off by a laughing psychopath, I reckoned The Boy Downstairs would be a safe bet. It’s a romcom, I told her: no violence, no weird sex, no hideous slow deaths.

Muffet, alas, found other things to object to. ‘Why on earth did the young woman fall for such an unattractive young man?’ she wondered as we left the cinema. ‘He was repulsive.’
‘Oh, come,’ I said. ‘They made each other laugh.’
‘Once or twice,’ allowed Muffet. ‘And they spent all their time eating,’ – here Muffet made loud eating noises to illustrate her point – ‘and lying in bed with all their clothes on.’
Well, yes, that was a bit odd. Ben’s white Tshirt in bed seemed OK, but why was Diana always muffled up in a jumper?

Not much happens. Diana (a versatile, witty performance from Zosia Mamet) returns to New York from two years in London and rents a very nice apartment in a building where by chance Ben, the ex-boyfriend, is living downstairs. Awkward! Acquaintances make jokes about how creepy it is, as if she’s done it on purpose. Ben is now going out with the estate agent (a severely under-written character played nicely within the writing’s limitations by Sarah Ramos). We see in flashbacks the beginning of the romance between Diana and Ben, and its six-months duration before Diana went to London (why? and what did she do in London?). Fortunately for us there is no confusion between then and now, as back then Ben wore contact lenses and now he wears largish glasses. Phew!

In the present-day (or almost present-day) storyline Diana and Ben lurch towards their happy ending. Quite slowly. But with some good dialogue, and, I thought, quite a lot of charm. I didn’t find Ben as unattractive as both Muffet and Ismay did (tho he was a bit on the tubby side) and unlike my two companions I felt there was some chemistry between the two of them. Ismay just didn’t believe that Diana could have been in love with Ben – and in love with him all that time she was away. And I see what she means. But we both enjoyed it for what it was: a quirky, funny (if overlong – our constant complaint) romcom.
downsatirs 2

Muffet later admitted that she probably hadn’t heard all the funny dialogue (it was a bit young-person mumbly). When I suggested that a final scene that shows two people agreeing to go together to pick up some clothes from a dry cleaners might be preferable to one that shows a man with bleeding stumps for arms, she agreed and said she looked forward to having a night’s sleep without any nightmares.

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