‘Benjamin’ film review – Simon Amstell’s first feature is a heartwarming, brutal, self-portrait

It does not take much to see that comedian Simon Amstell’s first feature film is largely autobiographical

If the events in Benjamin are fictitious, the person they’re happening to – a gangly, sensitive, 30-something filmmaker – is Amstel with a different face and an Irish accent. And what a clear-eyed, heartwarming and almost brutal self-portrait it is.

To make things extra difficult for himself, Amstell has made a film about a movie director struggling with expectation and self-doubt. Benjamin (Colin Morgan), an awkward, artsy fartsy, East London type, has made one well-received film and is working on his second. He is terrified he is not as good as the hype says and that what he’s making might be pretentious and terrible (from the bits of his film we’re shown, he is right to worry). His mind is taken off his work stresses when he falls for a winsome singer, Noah (Phenix Brossard), and decides to stress about that instead.

Amstell’s depiction of Benjamin will be horribly relatable to anyone who has ever gone out on a limb creatively. Benjamin’s self-doubt makes for some very uncomfortable scenes as his worst fears come true, but Amstell is never self-indulgent or anything like self-aggrandising. He pokes fun at the filmmaking world and his own part within it. He creates sweet contrast in the scenes between Benjamin and Noah, as Benjamin is simultaneously terrified and elated about being part of something he can’t guarantee will have a happy ending.

As you’d expect from a highly successful stand-up comedian, Amstell’s dialogue is superb. He’s created a gaggle of side characters who don’t do an awful lot plot-wise, but add a ton of gags, notably Jessica Raine as Benjamin’s caustic publicist who doesn’t do a particularly good job of making him feel good about himself.  Morgan delivers some killer lines in a stumbling, embarrassed style that makes Benjamin, really a very self-centred man, adorable and rather pitiable. Particularly good is his attempt to flirt with a Frenchman by blurting out, “I love Les Mis”.

Amstell should feel none of the terror and impending doom of his subject because there is one key difference between them: Amstell has made a really excellent film.

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