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Tribeca Film Festival 2017: Be Sure to Visit ‘The Boy Downstairs’

Quirky, heartfelt, and populated with strong characters, ‘The Boy Downstairs’ is a charming love story.

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When it comes to romantic comedies, strong characters are key. If the y aren’t funny or interesting, then the film is doomed to fail. I mean, who wants to sit through a movie with two bland individuals who offer little to nothing to the proceedings? Thankfully, this is not the case with the hipster-friendly, millennial The Boy Downstairs, and while it isn’t a perfect cinematic representation of love and relationships, it is charming enough to leave a smile on your face – or at least a grin.

The story centers on young Diana (Zosia Mamet), who has just returned to New York City after a stint in London. An aspiring writer, Diana hopes to make it big in the City That Never Sleeps, but like so many others in her predicament, she is soon faced with the reality of hard work, perseverance, and a desire to not just be successful, but to matter. One of her initial adventures is to find a decent apartment, and she does so in Brooklyn. The building’s landlady, Amy, is an aging actress (played perfectly by Deirdre O’Connell), and the two ladies form an instant connection.

The setup seems perfect – that is, until Diana finds out that her neighbor downstairs is Ben (Matthew Shear), an ex-boyfriend Diana dumped a few years prior. Faced with an awkward living situation, Diana decides to stay in the apartment because house-hunting in New York is just way too difficult a task. Eventually, the pair reconnects, revisits certain emotions, and explore new opportunities – everything most young people in the city often do.

Newbie filmmaker Sophie Brooks has captured the magic and awkwardness of New York love brilliantly here. There is a strong dry sense of humor and quirkiness that elevates The Boy Downstairs to great heights; one can’t help but compare this film to When Harry Met Sally or select works from Woody Allen’s filmography. Young adults navigating uncertain waters like New York seems to be a recipe for greatness and this new rom-com and walks a familiar, but still an entertaining path.

The screenplay is sharp, gritty, and real, with dialogue that seems improvised in many parts but never played over the top. Zosia Mamet (of Girls fame) is a wonder here, anchoring the film with grace and wit. Matthew Shear is also a gifted actor in his own right (with a nerdy teddy bear-like persona), and together they make an adorable pair that is really quite fun to watch. Aside from the film’s two talented leads, there is the seasoned Deirdre O’Connell, with a career not only in film but also in television and stage. Her role as Amy, the hippie landlord, is one of the film’s best aspects. She’s so natural and her performance is really the stuff of legends.

Fans of Mamet will eat this film up, and I think it’s safe to say that this role will catapult her into stardom. She’s cute, young, and funny, qualities that all actors should possess but sadly often don’t. She is unique enough to turn heads and seems to exist in a world outside of this one (that much can be said for her character in Girls). I suppose it’s her delivery and timing that separates her from the many vapid pretty faces that manage to get into pictures, but Mamet is special, and I see many more great things for this young lady.

The best thing about The Boy Downstairs, however, aside from being an engaging love story, is that the premise is sympathetic to many an audience. Though perhaps inflated to slightly unrealistic extremes here, most of us have fallen in and out of love, only to be confronted with it head-on later in life. It’s a difficult thing to revisit those feelings, and in this film, Diana and Ben display a certain vulnerability that is highly relatable. Sure, this film probably isn’t going to win any Oscars but it is cute and innocent enough to warrant at least one viewing. Look for it on digital platforms, since it is bound to that type of realm, and be sure to watch for young Ms. Mamet, certainly on her way to greatness.

Randall J. Unger (Randy) is a film critic and interviewer who reviews movies of all kinds. He interviews actors, filmmakers, composers, dancers, and even special effects makeup artists for his film review show / podcast 'Unger the Radar'. Some of the talent he has interviewed includes Jude Law, Liam Neeson, James Franco, Marisa Tomei, Elijah Wood, Kevin Pollak, Robert Rodriguez, and Kal Penn. He is a regular fixture at screenings, comic cons, and other special events. He is based in New York City. Twitter: @randall_unger

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