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  Benjamin When That Awkward Age Lasts A Lifetime
Year: 2018
Director: Simon Amstell
Stars: Colin Morgan, Phénix Brossard, Joel Fry, Jessica Raine, Jack Rowan, Anna Chancellor, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Ellie Kendrick, James Lailey, Michèle Belgrand, Jessie Cave, Gabe Gilmour, Robin Peters, James Bloor, Kriss Dosanjh, Alex Lowe, Arnab Chanda
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Benjamin Oliver (Colin Morgan) is a budding filmmaker who is finishing the editing on his most recent project, a deeply personal account of a romance between a man not unlike himself and his boyfriend - the man actually played by Benjamin, which has left him feeling very vulnerable to the opinions of others. He is worried about putting so much of himself out there in this film, and as the premiere date approaches he cannot simply be satisfied with what he has created, he has to find flaws in it because he has convinced himself everyone else will too, once they see it. What he really needs to do is relax and find a nice boy to settle down with. Is that too much to ask from life?

Benjamin was not stand-up comedian turned television presenter turned film director Simon Amstell's first attempt at directing, but what he had made before was more along the lines of a protest movie, just a very polite one, where he asked the audience whether they would consider embracing veganism, not merely for the health benefits and the lack of cruelty to animals, but because it might save the human race too. Weighty matters like that obviously preyed on his mind, as he characterised himself in his public persona as a habitual worrier (not a warrior), but in his second effort he was more interested in how catastrophic it can be to try an express affection.

Some people find it easy enough, even if it can go wrong, yet it's the fact it can go wrong at all that undermines many a soul who would be better off with someone to love and accept love from, with the threat that if you keep pushing away those who could do you good, you will end up very much alone, obsessing Benjamin's thoughts. And presumably on Amstell’s mind too, as his lead was a surrogate for him, that was plain to see, with only Morgan's Irish lilt discerning him from the Londoner who wrote the script in his own voice. This could be a problem in losing yourself in the drama, never mind the comedy, but fortunately Amstell was a natural wit, and drew out the awkward laughs.

But it was terribly awkward nonetheless. Almost all the men here were reservoirs of social inadequacy, and the fact they were creative had you wondering, as they must themselves, why they decided to put their fragile egos through the creative process when they could not stand to be criticised, Benjamin especially. You began to think he would be far happier out of the arts since being judged offered him so much internal agony, and judgement was part and parcel of artistry, unless you're some kind of reclusive maniac who stores up their output without showing it to anyone, possibly so you can be deemed a lost genius when your body is discovered under a pile of toppled books and your art comes to light. But there's the issue for the talented: it probably would be easier to hide your light under a bushel.

Easier, but not more rewarding, for as Benjamin discovers while it hurts when people are not so keen on his film, or are lukewarm at best which is almost worse, when he does receive praise it's a good, addictive sensation. There's something very childish about this, seeking validation for your potato prints (or adult equivalent), and Amstell did not shy away from depicting these boy-men as struggling to cope with the sort of day to day experiences and tasks that their dads found an absolute doddle, so when Benjamin strikes sparks with French musician Noah (Phénix Brossard) it does go more or less the way you would expect, initial joy followed by anguished self-sabotage for the rest of what was a fairly brief feature. With a bunch of performances from a cast who were entirely aware of what was required of them (Jessica Raine stood out in support as the flighty PR rep, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett wiped the smiles off the faces with his caustic appearance as Benjamin's ex), this may have been navel-gazing, but hey, we all have navels. Music by James Righton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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