As the title character in “Benjamin,” Colin Morgan is chatty, insecure, painfully awkward, and thanks at least in part to his Irish accent, adorably twee.
Your instinct is to sidle up to him, give him a little “Could we talk outside?” and extract him from every single uncomfortable human interaction facing him in this engaging, accessible and quite amusing romantic comedy.
Writer-director Simon Amstell’s sophomore feature (after 2017’s “Carnage”) is about a once-lauded, once younger “young filmmaker on the rise” finally getting around to his second feature, frozen in insecurities, which he has — we gather — been unleashing on his editor and his producer (Anna Chancellor).
He hems. He haws. He watches the film unspool, a scene with himself and another actor bickering about “The self is an illusion,” and Benjamin goes on an on about putting more of “the monk” (a Buddist guru) back into the film.
“We’re picture LOCKED!” producer Tessa fumes.
This is the way Benjamin Oliver is — tentative, over-thinking, over-talking, impulsive and indecisive at the same time. He is maddening and amusing to be around. And once the viewer gets over the intense relief that the “scene” playing out from his movie — titled “No Self,” we later learn — is NOT the movie we’re going to be watching, Morgan (TV’s “Merlin”) drags us along on a cute, flip and occasionally poignant slice of his life.
His next uncomfortable interaction is with his publicist (Jessica Raine, HILARIOUS). Then, there’s his stand-up comic pal Stephen (Joel Fry), the one he drags with him to a “chair” unveiling. What do you say to an artist showing off a chair?
“I really like that it’s not something you’d want to sit on.”
But that “unveiling” has live music, and Benjamin is instantly bowled-over by the singer.
“You just like people who are well-lit and weak,” Stephen jokes, know his pal’s “type.” Stephen corrects any introduction of himself as a comic with “I’m not funny.” Don’t you believe it.
Especially when he and the hard-charging, self-absorbed publicist Billie (Raine) hook-up after the chair-unveiling, and it doesn’t go well.
Benjamin? He’s disarming and handsome enough to make the eye contact that gets the attention of Noah, the French singer (Phénix Brossard). Maybe he’ll stop blabbing long enough to “connect,” or at least close the deal.
“You look kind of elfin,” the Frenchman smiles. As if he’s one to talk.
Benjamin tries to navigate this new romance even as he’s facing the London Film Festival premiere of his movie, where all his insecurities are fated to flow out of him, in public and in private — with Noah.
“Oh God, you hayett-ed it,” he blurts, in Irish. “Is the relationship over?”
Amstell writes delightful dialogue (he’s scripted a lot of TV), and he gives everybody something funny and telling to say. The former leading man (Jack Rowan) who talks about working with Benjamin again is vapid, pretentious and quite actorly in his uh, compliments.
“I love the way you don’t choose success!”
“Benjamin” is a brief, brisk movie that somehow manages to squeeze in seven characters of consequence, tell an amusing and romantic story, and still find the time to dip its toes into something darker.
That darkness resonates, too — the emotional scars artists share as a driving trait, the wounds that an ex can carry after an affair ends. And succeed or fall square on your face, resign yourself to the necessary evil of having a publicist — hiring a disinterested someone to lie, badly, about you and what you do just to keep you going and your name “out there.”
MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity, drug jokes
Cast: Colin Morgan, Joel Fry, Anna Chancellor, Jessica Raine, Jack Rowan and Phénix Brossard
Credits: Written and directed by Simon Amstell. An Artspoilation Films release.
Running time: 1:27