Benjamin review – Simon Amstell's hilariously bittersweet romance

As a young film-maker’s career teeters on the brink of disaster, a surprise love affair forces him to rethink the path to happiness

Simon Amstell’s funny, charming and overpoweringly personal comedy is a nervous romance, in which both parties get to be Annie Hall. Amstell creates a detailed ecosystem of in-jokes from the worlds of media and film, and from that cynical context he conjures a miraculously heartfelt love story, sweet and poignant in all its awkwardness.

Colin Morgan plays Benjamin, a once promising young film-maker drowning in self-deprecation and self-doubt: the ironic humour of these personal modes is souring, now that actual failure may be on the cards. He is hyper-aware that a lot of time has passed since his award-winning debut and is now terrified (with good reason) that his follow-up is a disaster.

His producer Tessa (Anna Chancellor) and publicist Billie (Jessica Raine) are briskly drawing a line under this project and preparing to move on; Benjamin’s writing partner Stephen (Joel Fry) appears to have had an indiscretion with Billie, who wishes to conceal this from her boyfriend Harry (Jack Rowan), an up-and-coming actor who starred in Benjamin’s new film but is now hurtfully headed for better and more prestigious things. And, just as Benjamin begins to process the awful disaster of his movie, he falls deeply in love with Noah (Phénix Brossard), a visiting French music student, and begins dimly to register that caring for someone other than himself might be the key to happiness after all.

The setting is London, but Amstell doesn’t feel the need for swooning locations, it is all very downbeat and his dialogue is at all times extremely funny. There is a brilliant moment when he smokes a hundredweight of weed and in the ensuing loneliness/epiphany montage we see him wonderingly exclaim: “It’s a hedge!”

There’s a great walk-on from Ellie Kendrick as a performance artist: that comedy standby stereotype into which she breathes new life. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett comes close to stealing the whole thing with a superbly acid cameo as Benjamin’s disaffected ex.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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