Simon Amstell's Benjamin is a breathtakingly sincere romance that should be admired and cherished
Love is an awkward thing, especially for Simon... sorry, Benjamin (Colin Morgan). Although, it wouldn't make much of a difference if the film's anxious lead was named after its writer-director. Comedian-turned-filmmaker Simon Amstell lays his heart on the table in his second feature that seems as much of a confessional as it is a sweet comedy worth savouring.
Benjamin is a filmmaker struck with nerves and doubt ahead of the premiere of his second feature at the London Film Festival. The film opens with Amstell going through a breakup, impeccably shot, until it's revealed that this is a film within a film. Benjamin rises up in front of the frame, turns towards the audience and asks if the scene is good. You can draw the parallels from there.
Benjamin is fictional, but Amstell's voice shines through so clearly that it feels like autobiography. It's a painfully honest exorcism of Amstell's post-first feature anxieties. "Ideally, I would've just made that film and died," Benjamin says, and the offhand quip doesn't seem entirely fictional.
Amstell channels his cynical humour into hilarious setups. One night Benjamin meets gifted musician Noah (Phénix Brossard) and they soon strike up a relationship, albeit with a lot of fumbling, missteps and some magic mushroom trips along the way. Their rapport feels natural because of how different they are: Noah is quiet and mysterious, while Benjamin is an open book who just can't stop talking. Their encounters are endearingly awkward, then underlined with truths about the difficult beginnings of love.
Such a self-referential film contains the risk of coming across as shallow or indulgent. But Amstell is so forthcoming about his flaws and past failures that it's easy to be swept up by its charm. Something as breathtakingly sincere as Benjamin should be admired and cherished.
Benjamin had its Scottish premiere at Glasgow Film Festival and is released across the UK on 15 Mar by Verve