Monday 27 May 2019


Benjamin (Colin Morgan) is preparing to release his second feature film and navigate his way his way through life as a single gay man in modern London. Ahead of a screening of his film at the London Film Festival, the socially awkward Benjamin meets Noah (Phenix Brossard), the hip lead singer of a band who might be his perfect match. Both vegan, both children of divorce... they might be perfect for each other.

Amstell's career trajectory is a curious one, going from a (albeit extremely witty) children's TV presenter, to stand-up comedian, to panel show host, to film director. It is possible that your knowledge of him begins and ends with his time as co-host of T4's acerbic Popworld or taking over the reins of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, in which case you've been missing out on one of the more interesting developing voices in modern pop culture. Firstly, his film Carnage, which envisioned society 50 years in the future looking back at current farming techniques, delivered its message whilst being very funny; and his memoir HELP was one of the best things I've read this year.

Benjamin is clearly a film with close ties to its creator, starring Colin Morgan as a thinly disguised substitute for Amstell. Styled with tousled hair and comfortable jumpers, he's defiantly uncool in the modern London he finds himself in; more coconut water than cocaine, and out of place at the trendy clubs and social gatherings he finds himself invited to. There's some very accurate commentary on the nature and growth of youth culture that Benjamin, barely in his 30s, is at least two cycles away from being at the forefront of the people driving all that is cool.

Forced to step out of his comfort zone by his friends, it's at one of these parties where he happens across Noah (Phenix Brossard), performing on stage with his band. Feeling an instant attraction to each other, they are able to begin a relationship due to Noah's upfront sexual confidence overcoming Benjamin's awkwardness. 2019 is not a great time to be compared to Woody Allen, but let's just say Amstell's ode to newfound love shares some of the hallmarks of Allen's classic romantic 70s era. When Benjamin asks Noah "what's your type?", his response to hearing "I always end up with geeks like you" is a simple "oh, good".

But this isn't a film that relies solely on witty one liners, often finding moments of joy in the little things new couples share, like going to the shop to buy water after taking too many magic mushrooms, or having a long, engrossing stare at each other as they share a bath. These moments feel real, romantic and true, helped by the gentle, melancholic piano led score composed by James Righton from The Klaxons, featuring a beautiful recurring motif that oozes romance and longing.

The character of Benjamin is a clear portal for some of Amstell's neurosis, but his best friend Stephen (Joel Fry) also embodies Amstell's career as a stand-up, including a scene with what might be one of the most disastrous gigs of all time. This is a very funny film that has real heart in its romance and real hurt in Benjamin's insecurities about his work as a filmmaker and the creative process. Any creative types worth their salt will find a lot to empathise with here.

Benjamin is so delicately handled and well observed, this bodes very well for the future of Simon Amstell as a filmmaker. It may feel premature to start to apply auteurist theory to what is Amstell's first theatrically released feature film (not including his vegan faux-documentary that debuted on the BBC iPlayer last year), but his singular voice is all over this. Every awkward interaction, every sarcasm infused one-liner that's really an expression of the character's own insecurity... It's brilliant.