Simon Amstell’s feature debut, Benjamin, is a subtly funny, deeply romantic picture starring Colin Morgan and Phenix Brossard. Led by a powerhouse performance from Morgan, the film explores the idosyncracies of twenty-somethings in the creative industries in London in classic Amstell fashion.
At its core, Benjamin is a romantic character study interested in the unsaid. Exploring what constitutes art (and what inspires it, too), the film gently and playfully mocks the industry it focuses on. Interested in the formation of relationships, Amstell shakes off unrealistic displays of romance and instead grounds the film in everyday examples of love; the kind you can relate to. The kind you might have experienced.
It feels like a personal narrative for Amstell, who has spoken openly in interviews about his own experiences as a gay man navigating relationship territory. Indeed, Benjamin‘s mannerisms are comparative to Simon’s, as is his dry humour and awkward quality. These traits only endear us to the titular character more, as we watch his relationship with Phenix Brossards’ Noah blossom.
Brossard and Morgan share an enigmatic chemistry, both are a joy to watch. They share porridge, take mushrooms and wash each other’s hair. They support one another’s creative ventures. They both feel fear at the strength of their feelings. This is not an exploration of unchartered territory but instead a film interested in honest, innocent love and one that understands the complexities of it.
Joel Fry co-stars as Benjamin‘s best friend Stephen, a struggling comedian battling with depression. The scope of male friendship is explored in a manner both unobtrusive and moving, but Fry isn’t present enough and the short run time doesn’t leave space to explore his story more. However, this is just one small gripe and the feature, as a whole, is beautifully shot and refreshingly original in its take on modern love.
Simon Amstell, known previously for his cut-throat comments on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, shows his penchant for warmth and wit – and it’s not at the expense of others. Simply yet powerfully crafted, Benjamin is a relatable tale of young love that will resonate with anyone who has ever had, or sought out, organic romance.