Uncertainty permeates every facet of Benjamin’s (Colin Morgan) existence. He’s a filmmaker releasing his second film to a sea of baffled reviews, he doesn’t know how to help his best friend who is clearly depressed, he struggles in social situations and then he goes and begins a relationship with Noah (Phenix Brossard).
There’s much in Benjamin that could be said to be autobiographical of writer/director Simon Amstell recent life. He’s a filmmaker now on his second feature film. In interviews Amstell’s openly discussed battles with anxiety and depression finding some guidance in buddhist teachings ( Benjamin is shown watching self-help guru’s on YouTube). But the script feels more an unpacking of Amstell’s past struggles and experiences to create a snap shot of what life is like for a “creative” filled with neurosis.
As well as focusing on Benjamin’s internal struggle the film acts as an acerbic satire on the world of art and media, primarily in London. Agents, comedians and performance artists all come under Amstell’s caustic gaze. Music escapes as one of the only pure forms of creativity, embodied by Noah who becomes Benjamin’s lover. Whilst there are some strong one-liners much of the comedy based around the absurdity of the media world feels like low-hanging fruit. How many times do we need to see that agents and managers are self-serving and fatuous? How many pretentious performance pieces do we need to see to know it can be a bit silly?
Where the film comes alive is in the quieter moments of drama between Benjamin and Noah. Their relationship quickly blossoming from awkwardly cute looks at the floor to an intense love affair. Moments where Amstell, the director, allows scenes to play out as though they are b-roll are some of the films strongest. Benjamin and Noah lazing around a flat are some of the most believable scenes of a relationship you’ll see in any film recently. One of the films true unique points is without realising it until an hour in that you’ve become firmly invested in these characters lives. Benjamin’s friendship with comedian Stephen (Joel Fry) becoming as integral to the story as his romance with Noah.
As a comedy some of the performances are over-the-top or sahara dry, taking pot shots at the obvious. Taken as a drama Benjamin is a thing of understated beauty in terms of its visuals and acting. Simon Amstell has created a tender, poetic story that fills you with interest into what he’ll do next.
Dir: Simon Amstell
Scr: Simon Amstell
Cast: Colin Morgan, Phenix Brossard, Joel Fry, Jessica Raine
Prd: Alexandre Breede, Dominic Dromgoole, Louise Simpson
DoP: David Pimm
Music: James Righton
Run time: 85 mins
Benjamin is released on DVD on 12th August 2019.