Comedian, writer and director Simon Amstell charms with his debut cinema feature film, a story of love and loneliness in London. In a barely-disguised bit of autobiography, Benjamin is a film maker fretting over his next movie and how badly it’ll be received. He’s also worried about his inability to have relationships.
It’s very Woody Allen in an Annie Hall sort of a way, which is as big a compliment as I can pay any movie, let alone a refreshing London one that’s set firmly in a gay environment but hardly makes a point of it.
Colin Morgan plays Benjamin, who sounds a lot like Amstell, with his stammering inadequacies, strange laughs and chronic lack of confidence. But these are good things for a lead character, things he can work on and work with as he falls in love with a cool French singer called Noah (Phenix Brossard).
Amstell keeps things fresh and funny and navigates an ambitious, self-referential structure with considerable skill, while also working in some existential philosophy and self-help mantras amid sweet, indie-inflected songs, co-written with the Klaxon’s James Righton. His confident film-making hardly reflects the personal insecurities he uses in his material.
I liked that there’s a lot of painfully funny honesty here – in the fumblings of how to flirt, how to behave and what to think, and in the observations about a creative life, from film making to standup comedy (nice performances from Joel Fry as comedy mate Stephen and Jessica Raine as publicist Billie).
Look, it’s all about the Benjamin so it’s soppy, solipsistic and self-indulgent in places, of course, but we wouldn’t say that if it were French. We’d expect it.
And I laughed and smiled and saw myself and my city reflected in it, and it’s not often one can say that about a film.
Benjamin – In cinemas & on digital 15th March.