It’s very difficult to review a film that’s semi-autobiographical. This is someone’s life, this is someone’s passion, this is someone’s life that they thought would make a good movie. And it’s hard to give an opinion on that.
Benjamin is written and directed by Steven Amstell, based on his life. Apparently Amstell is a name in the UK? I don’t know. I don’t know who he is. The one person I recognized was Colin Morgan. He plays the lead in the movie. But this movie is so British.
The premise of Benjamin is the title character is a young-ish filmmaker who had early success over a half-decade ago, and while preparing his second movie he meets a young French male musician. The movie deals with Benjamin’s feelings of self-doubt, insecurities, early success, and inadequacies while living a young-ish artsy life in England. Everyone in this movie is very artsy and attractive, and everyone has some sort of mental condition with the exception of the young musician played by Phénix Brossard (his character’s name is Noah).
Noah reminds me of the early-2000s manic pixie dream girl. He has high cheekbones, he has a Noah Gallagher type of haircut, he wears a denim 1980s-esque jacket (which has to be a code in movies with gay male dreamy characters. Love, Simon has the same jacket). He reminds me of something out of The Dark Crystal franchise with impossibly high cheekbones and a delicate face. The problem is the whole movie is riding on how much Benjamin seems to want to be with Noah, and we never get what makes Noah so special. He barely speaks, when he does it’s a few words with a thick French accent, and it’s nothing profound. The actor isn’t that magnetic to even justify this. He is not profoundly beautiful or good looking. He needed a better haircut.
The protagonist, Benjamin, is this socially awkward man (doesn’t seem particularly lively). He has had bad relationships, apparently “can’t love” and he watches a lot of meditation videos on YouTube. He had success when he was younger, which makes him hypercritical of anything he does. He says he’s a vegan but then eats seemingly normal ice-cream. He doesn’t drink. He has a cat. He has a very cool apartment. He apparently has one friend, a depressed standup comedian (who was my favorite part of the whole damn movie) played by Joel Fry.
There’s a movie within the movie that Benjamin directs/writes called No Self. And it’s all seems very self-involved. Like the filmmaker is trying to figure out his own issues and using Morgan and Fry as live-action therapy dolls to do so. It seems like an expensive therapy session.
The romance that the movie is built on, isn’t romantic. They do magic mushrooms and take a bath together. Ohhh a bubble bath. These are two soft-spoken soft-featured men, and the movie just seems to be a lot of shots of them together.
Being the queer person at LMO, who likes LGBTQ dramas and comedies, this should be up my alley. I mean I joked that Merlin was just Merlin and Arthur being “buddies.” I really struggled watching it. I wanted to like this. I wanted to say it was a sweet romcom! But instead, it felt like the filmmaker was working out his own personal issues using this movie. It wasn’t particularly compelling or well written. Colin Morgan was great, Joel Fry was good. But the rest of it felt like something you’d leave on in the background while doing housework to have white noise.
The film made its premiere at last year’s BFI London Film Festival, and was planning a limited theatrical release, but will now make a wide digital release on July 24th.