The Boy Downstairs movie review: the ex factor

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The Boy Downstairs red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

An appealing high concept that could have gone in many wildly different directions, all emotionally charged, instead wallows in a wan, bloodless banality of “chill.”tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
female director, female screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

Writer-director Sophie Brooks makes her feature debut with The Boy Downstairs, and alas, it is a wan, bloodless take on 20something fumblings with romance and adulthood. When Diana (Zosia Mamet: The Kids Are All Right) moves back to New York after a couple of years abroad, she accidentally rents an apartment in the same building where her ex, Ben (Matthew Shear: Mistress America), now lives, a fact she does not discover until after, it seems, contracts have been signed and she has moved in. In between flashbacks to their relationship before she left the city — which we discover seems to have been primarily characterized not by great romance but by a mismatch in assumptions about where they were going as a couple — Diana’s attempts to be chill and grownup about having regular interactions with the guy whose heart she supposedly broke, an act she may now be regretting, are never anything more than banal.

For a situation that is allegedly so contentious and so potentially emotionally challenging, we barely feel a thing, and neither Diana nor Ben seem to express anything greater than pleasant contentment (in the flashbacks) and mild annoyance (in the present day). The high concept is appealing, and Brooks could have taken it in many wildly different directions, from Seinfeldian absurdity (“What’s the deal with sun-drenched Brooklyn brownstone apartments that make people crazy?”) to stalker horror (“I live here now. You’re gonna have to see me every day…”). Instead, perhaps in aiming for grounded authenticity, she drained almost all strong emotion from her tale — but even down-to-earth stories about real-ish people need some passion. The most I was stirred to feel was resentment over how Diana, who works in a shop and is trying to be a writer, could possibly afford such a fabulous apartment. That breaks my heart.

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Fri, Feb 23, 2018 9:54am