Review by Sarah Williams
Playfully intimate, Simon Amstell's Benjamin is a love letter to falling in love with the concept of being loved. A slight indie rom-com that's genuinely charming, it's the film we've been asking for to make the genre gay. Light, gentle, and still surprising Ben Whishaw doesn’t have a role anywhere in it, it’s a hidden gem of easy viewing with a massive amount of heart, not to mention the Mark Kermode cameo.
Merlin's Colin Morgan plays a film director, the titular Benjamin, on the verge of premiering his second film. He is introduced to a young French musician while at London Film Festival, and is enamored at first watching from a distance. The two soon hit it off, and it’s a slight love story filled with that messy awkwardness from the beginning of getting to know someone beyond just watching them. Noah (Phénix Brossard) has this natural, teasing chemistry with Ben, who can say anything, joking about French stereotypes constantly, and is enamored just the way Ben is when he sees Noah sing that first night.
Almost Xavier Dolan-esque in its brightly colored gay love story about two pale skinny guys with dark floppy hair (the only kind of Dolan love interest) meeting and falling head over heels, it avoids much of the enfant terrible’s melodramatic tendencies. Where the young auteur goes for heartbreak and over the top drama, Amstell’s film goes for tender laughs in a way that may appeal to those who’ve tried to like Dolan, but just can’t get behind the height of his maximalism. Nobody is perfect in this sweet little rom-com world, and though the romance is idealized, it is put on the same pedestal as the typical heterosexual rom-com (and even those seem to be disappearing), and never does it make the characters seem any different.
Neither man is given a struggle of toxic masculinity, allowing a refreshing save of tenderness to wash over the film. A scene where Noah softly washes Ben’s hair in the bathtub comes to mind, eyes shut as they touch, and it's so rare to see two men allowed their desire without any hardness. There's a warm, grainy haze washed over the whole film, like we are peering into an archive of memories of woozy nights spent falling into love, projected on a screen later on in the relationship. They’re the kind of memories you’d show the world, the moments in your love that create a neatly packaged retail book that make it all look so easy.
As a friend of Ben once says, “You only like people who are well lit and weak”. There’s a love letter here, drawn often from Amstell’s own experiences, to loving the easy targets, those that you are sure will love you back from a pretty picture. While this isn’t always the soundest way to go about things, as sometimes love is tough, it’s refreshing to see the two men slip together so easily. Benjamin may not be the meatiest romance, but it has a massive heart, and is the kind of simple gay romance the internet has been begging for.
Benjamin is now available on VOD.