Writer/director Sophie Brooks’ light, feature debut offers a glimpse into the life and first loves of the twenty-something millennial. Set in Brooklyn, this gentle, coming of age rom-com stars Zosia Mamet (TV series Girls) as Diana, an aspiring writer who has returned to New York after a two-year stint in London.
Initially jobless and with nowhere to live, she manages to find the perfect apartment in a brownstone building, whose landlady, Amy (Deidre O’Connell), a widowed, aging actress, mother figure, she befriends. In order to pay the rent, Diana gets a job in a bridal shop and tries to write her first novel in her spare time. But matters become complicated when she discovers that her ex-boyfriend, Ben (Matthew Shear) lives in the apartment below with his girlfriend, who happens to be the estate agent who had showed Diana her apartment.
After an initial awkward encounter with Ben, Diana declares that she just wants to be friends but it soon becomes obvious that this is not as easy to achieve as she thought.
Structurally, Brooks flips between the present and the past as a way to provide the backstory to Ben and Diana’s romance, including their breakup. In one such flashback, Diana meets Ben’s Jewish parents over Chanukah where they delight in telling her that the reason for their enduring love is down to, “We still know how to schmear each other’s bagels.”
Predictably, it takes time for Diana to work out her true feelings for Ben and there are few surprises but she does, credibly, convey her struggles and fears to Amy — confessing to uncertainty about what she is doing in her life. What is not credible, however, is her relationship with Ben.
There is little that shapes him as a character: he is bland at times, annoying at others and there is absolutely no chemistry between him and Diana. In an attempt at authenticity, the dialogue reflects millennial-speak, which means that it is littered with the word, ‘like’ but, rather than feeling of the moment, it just grates.
The script is also hampered by painful pauses and ‘umms.’ Although it is supposed to be endearing, Diana’s awkward sense of humour often feels forced and her fussy ordering in a restaurant — an obvious reference to Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally — is too contrived.
The film is likeable enough, despite having a plot that plods more than fizzes.
But Stefan Weinberger’s notable cinematography is spectacular. His take on Brooklyn is almost a character in itself — but is not enough to salvage what is a relatively standard take on a familiar genre.
The Boy Downstairs is on general release from 8 June