Benjamin

Simon Amstell continues his film career with the rather close to home, Benjamin. Benjamin (Colin Morgan) is a film director with a successful debut, but his follow-up feature about a man who can’t commit to relationships because of existential doubt is causing him much anxiety upon it’s upcoming screening at the London Film Festival. His publicist Billie (Jessica Raine) invites him to a ‘chair’ launch. Reluctant as parties are not his scene, he attends with his best friend and comedian Stephen (an excellent Joel Fry) where at the party he becomes besotted with the lead singer of the band playing, who also happens to be a client of Billie, Noah (Phénix Brossard). Despite the nervous mumblings of Benjamin, there’s a mutual attraction and it doesn’t take long for Noah being back at Benjamin’s flat. A romance ensues but when his film is panned Benjamin’s sense of self worth threatens to ruin his relationship sending him a continuous circle of self-destruction.

It is not uncommon for writers imaginations to be arrested to slightly deviated versions of themselves. The excellent Adaptation by Charlie Kauffman was the result of Kauffman struggling to adapt a book and instead wrote about himself struggling to write that book. However, Benjamin really comes short with ingenuity. In fact, the more and more you come to analyse the film post viewing the more faults you find with it. And that’s an odd feeling because Benjamin is an enjoyable watch, but the witty dialogue is more or less a thin shield as the film is very shy of any real plot or having anything to say. Whilst it’s sweet and charming, Benjamin’s inability to look outside of himself is rather reflective of Amstell unable to look outside of his own private experiences. Amstell fails to externalise Benjamin’s problems, thus plot turns in the relationship are so subtle you’re unaware that something might have happened. Furthermore the lack of real obstacles means scenes plod on without a great deal happening. His career has taken a dent but it doesn’t seem to financially threaten him.

Amstell tries to create a little b-story for Stephen which actually appears more interesting and self-destructive than Benjamin’s. But the relationship between these two stories are merely tangible. Too often Amstell wants to make fun of the superficial bourgeois types, the actor, the PR, the dancer, potentially constructed as a means to contrast Benjamin from those superficial types. Yet the character does little to not be in their spheres. Because they’re so superficial the film is a tad sitcom. The film is rather meta where by Benjamin is a manifestation of himself, but it’s not clever and really serves only to please Amstell and his fans. A better producer or script editor would ask the writer to probably step outside of themselves more.

Sometimes a writer needs to get past themselves before they can start thinking outwardly. So maybe Benjamin might serve just as that and that there might be better things to come from Amstell. Benjamin is funny and sweet but drastically lacking in depth.

★★★

Chris Aitken

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