We can all identify with those awkward, excitable moments where words escape our lips long before our brain has the ability to apply the brakes, and the lead in Benjamin seems to had said brakes removed.
Benjamin (Colin Morgan, channeling a young Hugh Grant) is a young filmmaker so desperate to not suffer the “sophomore slump” after his first release that he pours on the pretension a tad too thick in his film and fills his simple love story with talking monks expounding on the meaning of life.
Benjamin is the second feature of writer-comedian Simon Amstell, whom we can assume has harvested his own life for much of its humor. Amstell’s Benjamin self-sabotages his clear talent and intelligence at seemingly every turn, whether it’s flirting with the young singer (Phénix Brossard) he spies, or in the most casual of conversations.
Unable to withstand a void in noise when on the couch with his date, which is clearly headed toward their first kiss, Benjamin asks if he would like to talk about them both being children on divorce.
“…pours on the pretension a tad too thick in his film and fills his simple love story with talking monks expounding on the meaning of life.”
Unfortunately, Benjamin is not aided much by his mates, each lost in their own form of social malfunction: Stephen (Joel Fry) is a struggling comedian whose luck with the ladies is equally as tragic; Billie (Jessica Raine), an obliviously curt PR exec; and her sometimes boyfriend Harry (Jack Rowan), an actor who believes “method” means actually sleeping with those he’s sharing the screen with.
Amstell’s titular protagonist is wildly endearing and perpetually frustrating (in a good way), as we so wish to see him realize his talents, but can see him undermine it long before he has the opportunity. The fact that Benjamin (the film and the character) remains appealing throughout is a testament to the combined skill of Amstell as writer/director and Amstell as his on-screen doppelganger.
The script crackles with endlessly sharp throwaway lines, astute observations of the underground “art scene,” and sweet, well-executed montages (a standout being Benjamin and his new love taking psilocybin mushrooms, getting thirsty and becoming overwhelmed by the selection of bottled water at a local convenience store).
The story is feather-light, but the pain, either felt or indirectly caused by Benjamin, can be harrowingly authentic. We want to simultaneously hug him for reassurance and physically restrain him to keep from the next nerve-induced verbal volcano.
Following his debut film, 2017’s wickedly smart Carnage, Amstell can rest assured that, unlike Benjamin, he has indeed avoided the sophomore slump, and continues to demonstrate that his skills as a writer are equally suited for the director’s chair.
"…crackles with endlessly sharp throwaway lines, astute observations of the underground art scene..."