by Liina Laugesaar
- The new outing by comedian Simon Amstell is a semi-autobiographical, satirical comedy, currently on general release in the UK, courtesy of Verve Pictures
British comedian Simon Amstell (Carnage), who came to prominence as the host of the comedy panel show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, released his second feature, Benjamin [+see also:
film profile], in the UK on March 15, through Verve Pictures.
Amstell’s semi-autobiographical tale is a satirical comedy about the titular young filmmaker (Colin Morgan) who, a couple of weeks before premiering his second feature, No Self, meets a charming French musician called Noah (Phénix Brossard). Benjamin, due to his various anxieties and insecurities, consequently finds himself in personal purgatory, and what follows is a bittersweet and humorous tale of a suffering artist.
Just seconds before introducing No Self for its London Film Festival premiere (where Benjamin itself also premiered), he starts regretting the changes he made to the film. His introduction before the screening is as awkward as any other event in his life. Benjamin – portrayed brilliantly by Morgan – is a bundle of self-doubt who doesn't know when to shut up, but he is nevertheless still charming and relatable. While trying to figure out his creative and love life, he is put through situations that are squirm-inducing and humorous. Given Amstell's background, it’s no surprise that he nails the comedic moments with superb precision. It's more about chuckles induced by his witty and well-written jokes than about full-on belly laughs, but they are still nice little treats. And the cast of talented young actors guarantees a skilful delivery.
It’s through Benjamin and his entourage that we get a tongue-in-cheek glimpse of the London art scene. We see the best friend, Stephen (Joel Fry); the depressed comedian, Billie (Jessica Raine); the ever-busy publicist, Harry (Jack Rowan); the self-indulgent actor; and, of course, Noah, the love interest and musician waiting for his breakthrough. All together, they paint a satirical picture of “creative” London. And the idea of success lying just around the corner is kept alive by Benjamin’s sycophantic peers who are too scared of failure to accept it as an option.
The London in Benjamin is one of backstreets, converted warehouses and niche art events (such as the launch of a chair that can’t be sat on). We often wonder how regular people in movies can afford rent, especially in London, but the depiction of the city doesn’t seem too far from (hipster) reality in this film. The camerawork nicely captures the essence of the Big Smoke by letting neon lights stream into the otherwise murky colour palette, bringing the place to life when it is at its purest – at nighttime.
The ending may feel a bit abrupt and not entirely credible, but Benjamin is still a thoroughly enjoyable film that manages to skilfully incorporate comedy into the storyline of the everyday struggle of an artist, gently ridiculing the environment where the film itself was created.
Benjamin is a production by the UK's Open Palm Films.
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