Palace Electric has put on quite the show to celebrate the launch of the third American Essentials Film Festival. With pre-movie drinks and fare laid on by Bourbon Street Kitchen – pulled pork brioche, sloppy joes, and best of all, these incredible friend chicken po’ boys – it’s almost as much a feast as a film screening.

They’ve had some fun with the American theme, decking out their Prosecco Bar in red, white and blue, complete with a bouquet in theme from sponsor Saint Valentine Botanical Design. When a waiter offers me a tray of mini corn dogs in one hand and a pile of red and blue serviettes in the other, I have to have a giggle at Palace’s commitment to a colour scheme.

Meanwhile, the band is crooning acoustic covers of American pop classics like No Scrubs and I Wanna Dance With Somebody. I dare you to find me a nicer way to unwind on a cold Wednesday evening.

The American Essentials Film Festival celebrates the parts of the US film industry that might get easily overshadowed by the latest big ol’ blockbuster. Bringing 22 current indie films direct from the 2018 festival circuits to Canberra, American Essentials is perfect if you dream of zooming across the Pacific to lap up the vibes at SXSW or Sundance, but haven’t made it (yet).

I’m most excited about RBG, the documentary on US Supreme Court Justice

Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, which will be showing on Australian screens for the first time. The festival also brings a raft of vintage gems in tow, including Roman Polanski’s iconic Chinatown, and Robert De Niro and Al Pacino starring opposite each other as a cop and a criminal in Heat.

If, like me, you enjoy a glass of vino with your movie ticket, check out the festival’s special-event screening of Gotti, the biopic of New York mobster John Gotti staring none other than John Travolta in the title role. How’s this for a bonus: Gotti will have premiered just hours before at a wee little institution called the Cannes Film Festival.

The launch film for the festival is The Boy Downstairs, here fresh from TriBeCa 2017. The concept is simple enough: Diana, a twenty-something, moves to New York, and in its hostile rental climate finds herself forced to live in the only apartment available – which just so happens to be right upstairs from her ex.

I nestle into my cushy velvet seat a little unsettled; I’m not the biggest fan of romances. However, I’m in absolutely safe hands. This is a film that could be twee, but it veers left and goes straight for relatability instead.

Zosia Mamet, of Girls fame, absolutely nails her lead character Diana at every twist and turn. This is really her movie, and she gives a masterfully detailed, real performance. She definitely made me cry.

The script is so strong that I hesitate to call this a rom-com. For sure, in places it’s comedic, but often the comedy comes from the writers’ pitch-perfect observation of the little awkwardnesses of dating rather than big situational gags.

There are so many details about this film that I love – shout out to the continuity officer who made sure that as time passes in the film, it’s reflected not only in the changing of the seasons but in Diana’s blonde dye job growing out. All that perfectly weighted observation demands that you root for things to work out in Diana’s favour (something I can’t say for her character in Girls).

You can catch the American Essentials Film Festival from 9 to 20 May 2018 at Palace Electric.  To find out when The Boy Downstairs, RBG and the rest of the festival’s offering are screening, check out the program here.