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Review: ‘The Boy Downstairs,’ a delightful take on young adulthood

Zosia Mamet and Mattew Shear in the movie “The Boy Downstairs.”
(Jon Pack / FilmRise)

If the very mention of a movie about millennial creative professionals in Brooklyn makes you wince, filmmaker Sophie Brooks invites you to think again. The writer-director brings remarkable instincts to her modestly scaled first feature, “The Boy Downstairs.” Casting aside stereotypes in favor of everyday neuroses, she defies the contemporary film-school orthodoxy that nice people can’t be compelling characters.

Zosia Mamet, in her first big-screen role since “Girls,” and Matthew Shear, of “The Alienist,” create a duo worth rooting for in this droll, knowing and tender romance — a story that brings a delicate touch to one of the thorniest of life’s questions: How do you predict regret?

Mamet plays Diana, an aspiring fiction writer returning to New York after a post-college stint in England, only to find herself living in the same building as Ben (Shear), the boyfriend she left behind three years earlier. Their chemistry is as clear as the awkwardness of their hellos, but he’s not interested in catching up over coffee. Bolstered by her longtime friend (a noteworthy Diana Irvine) and maternal landlord (Deirdre O’Connell, terrific), Diana soldiers on through clumsy encounters, avoidable and otherwise, with Ben and his humorless new girlfriend (Sarah Ramos).

As the film moves elegantly between past and present, Brooks proves a keen observer of behavior and the pitfalls of overthinking. Finding complex beauty in what would be merely obvious in a lesser work, her delightful feature taps into a rarely broached, generally female coming-of-age dilemma: the fear of losing yourself before you know who you are.

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‘The Boy Downstairs’

Rating: PG-13, for some sexual material, brief strong language and drug references

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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