Benjamin (2018) | Dir. Simon Amstell | Cast: Anna Chancellor, Colin Morgan, Joel Fry, Phénix Brossard | Writer: Simon Amstell
Proactive self-assessment of your life and implementing positive change, aka taking a long hard look at yourself is incredibly difficult to do properly. Simon Amstell’s Benjamin is a semi biographical look at one artist's attempt at exorcising his personal demons and coming out better for it on the other side. It's damn good melancholic medicine you should try and seek out.
Benjamin is Amstell’s first feature after the critically acclaimed mockumentary Carnage and the TV series Grandma’s House. In North and East London’s art scene, Benjamin (Colin Morgan) is about to release his second film after a promising debut, in the hope that its reception is good and therefore validates - put rather bluntly by Benjamin himself - his reason for living “I don’t know who I am if this isn’t good.”
It soon becomes apparent he might need to put his life force into something else. He finds a lover in a music student called Noah (Penix Brossard). Through his infatuation to Noah, Benjamin answers the questions about himself he’s managed to avoid for so long.
We watch Benjamin almost self-destruct trying to explore his real life feelings and relationships after trying and failing to syphon them into a film people can understand. This is while simultaneously trying and make it in an industry that chews up and spits out mediocrity. It’s a bittersweet concoction of a rom com we don’t see everyday.
Leading the charm offensive is Colin Morgan. As Benjamin, Morgan is simultaneously funny, quirky and cryptic which makes it difficult to tell if Benjamin’s isolationist mindset is something he enjoys - keeping everyone at arms length and only holding a very tight circle of similar minded friends - or something he has no control over - with Benjamin’s need to fill everyday interactions with a lot of talking, leading to clunky and quite tone-deaf actions and outbursts. This adds to the film by playing with pace and predictability.
One scene that has stuck with me is Benjamin and Noah in the bathtub taking in each others’ awe. The camera looks into Benjamin’s eyes and he manages to flare all those characteristics at once, demonstrating Amstell’s ability to tell stories for the big screen. The validation is compounded with his tried and tested comedic chops.
His more morbid and somber scenes are grounded with years of comedy writing under his belt. Under Amstell’s direction, the rest of the cast (most with a strong comedic history themselves) perform with class comedic timing and an eccentricity that takes them beyond your typical rom com character types. You are almost guaranteed laughs.
Overall Benjamin is an excellent execution of cathartic art that many creatives try to channel into the things they make. It’s a super meta film where movie makers can lap up the satire of the industry, comedy fans can graze on sharp back and forths and vegans can enjoy too. Anyone for veggie dumplings?