Benjamin, written and directed by Simon Amstell, is a self-revelatory comedy of embarrassment and satire on arty pretension.
Sexy Boyby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Benjamin is comedian Simon Amstell’s second film (after Carnage). Like his comedy, it’s self-reflexive, almost brutally revealingly so. Look-and-soundalike (apart from the Irish accent) Colin Morgan plays the eponymous Benjamin, Amstell’s avatar, in Benjamin.
Like Amstell himself, Morgan’s Benjamin is a gay vegan film director/screenwriter, contorted with excruciating self-doubt and self-conscious social embarrassment. Benjamin is about to present his second film at the London Film Festival (Amstell’s Benjamin also really premiered there in 2018). Fear of the screening and the appearance he must make there puts Benjamin in emotional turmoil.
I love Amstell’s comedy work live and on television, though it can be so lacerating as to be painful to watch. In Amstell’s film, Benjamin wonders with quiet despair, amid the self-flagellating chaos of his life, if he can ever find someone to love him. But when he meets and falls for young French musician Noah (Phénix Brossard), who seems a perfect partner for him, it seems that he can’t allow himself to just be happy – yet.
Benjamin is set in London’s hipster media scene around Hoxton in east London, among aspiring creatives – writers and actors (Jack Rowan). It’s a world of solitary working on laptops, press launches, music and comedy gigs, and a lot of creative angst. Amstell wittily satirises its pretensions. Ellie Kendricks puts in a turn as a performance artist whose work consists of fighting her way out of a roll of brown paper, to everyone except Benjamin’s adulation.
Benjamin’s breezy, incorrigible publicist Billie is Jessica Raine, whose shy, self-deprecating client is a constant challenge to her. Anna Chancellor is his producer. Joel Fry is Benjamin’s friend Stephen, an unfunny stand-up comic, whose farewell gig is possibly the most toe-curling scene in the film. And Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is a tartly hostile ex-boyfriend, who outrageously interrupts a meet-the-parents occasion.
The film is revealing, personal and bittersweet. It unerringly nails a certain kind of contemporary arty milieu and has a great soundtrack, partly co-written by Amstell in collaboration with BRIT Award and Ivor Novello nominated songwriter James Righton (Klaxons, Shock Machine).
Benjamin premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 15 March 2019 in the UK. The soundtrack is available to stream and download. Benjamin is released on DVD on 12 August 2019.