AJFF Review: A Girl Finds Her ‘Boy Downstairs’
ArtsAtlanta Jewish Film Festival

AJFF Review: A Girl Finds Her ‘Boy Downstairs’

Star Zosia Mamet is caught between comedy and drama in Sophie Brooks' millennial comedy.

Girls” has been off the air for over six months, and Zosia Mamet, known for her scene-stealing portrayal of “Girls” fan favorite Shoshanna Shapiro, is beginning to break free.

Her first leading role post-Dunham is Diana, a writer, in New York University graduate Sophie Brooks’ debut feature as a writer and director, “The Boy Downstairs.”

Brooks’ freshman outing, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2017, maps the relationship between Diana and her Jewish boyfriend, Ben, played by Matthew Shear (“Mistress America,” “The Meyerowitz Stories” and the upcoming TNT series “The Alienist”).

Four years before the opening of “The Boy Downstairs,” Diana leaves Ben in dramatic fashion on the steps outside his picturesque Brooklyn apartment before going to London to work on her writing.

When Diana moves back home to New York and needs an apartment, her best friend, Gabby (Diana Irvine), connects her with real estate agent Meg (Sarah Ramos), who helps her get an open apartment that just happens to be in the same building as Ben’s new digs.

Brooks cuts between times fairly frequently, juxtaposing the start and development of Diana and Ben’s relationship before London with the present as Diana tries with little success to reconnect with Ben.

While the juxtapositions keep Brooks’ pacing feeling peppy, she finds mixed success with her route narrative as a whole, her tone falling somewhere between indie rom-com and mumblecore musings. Brooks pulls no punches as we see Diana struggle with the feelings she doesn’t want to have for Ben, and it’s always clear that the two Brooklynites will find their way back to each other.

There are moments of genuine comedy — most vividly when Gabby hooks up with a typical hipster jerk who stops her mid-undressing to seriously inquire about her thoughts on Radiohead — but overall the film falls in the ether between comedy and drama without ever quite achieving dramedy.

It’s commendable that Brooks avoids clichés associated with indie romances, and she successfully navigates the waters of her first feature. While “The Boy Downstairs” isn’t particularly remarkable, it bears the marks of the beginnings of an assured career for Brooks as she continues to find her voice.

(Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Feb. 3, 8:30 p.m., Woodruff; Feb. 4, 1:40 p.m., Atlantic Station; Feb. 9, 12:20 p.m., Springs)

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