Even though you probably only stepped foot in a movie theater a handful of times since the beginning of the year, all things considered, 2020 may be remembered as a good year for queer movies.
Some of the year’s best movies in the genre – many of which have been made available via streaming and VOD – include Mike Doyle’s “Almost Love,” Flavio Alves’ “The Garden Left Behind,” Alice Wu’s “The Half of It,” Lara Jean Gallagher's “Clementine,” James Sweeney’s “Straight Up,” Bo-ra Kim’s “House of Hummingbird,” Yuval Hadadi’s “15 Years,” and a pair of documentaries – David France’s “Welcome to Chechnya” and Daniel Karslake’s “For They Know Not What They Do.”
Gay writer/director Simon Amstell’s “Benjamin” (Artsploitation) is a wonderful and welcome addition to that list; it’s one of the best 21st-century rom-coms, gay or straight, that you can find. The titular character, Benjamin (a fantastic Colin Morgan) is a socially awkward and insecure filmmaker. He has an award-winning movie to his credit and is struggling with his next project; an ambitious rom-com (a movie within the movie) titled “No Self,” which he keeps fiddling with as its premiere draws closer.
Fumbling along as best he can, no one around him – producer Tessa (Anna Chancellor), publicist Billie (Jessica Raine), best friend and comedian Stephen (Joel Fry) or actor Harry (Jack Rowan) – seems to be able to provide him with guidance, personal or professional. Then he meets Noah (Phénix Brossard), a Guildhall music school student from Paris who is the lead singer of a band, another of the “thin boys on stage” he tends to fall for. As Stephen sums it up, Benjamin just likes “people who are well-lit and weak.”
However, Noah is stronger than you might think and after their inept first encounter, they begin to see each other romantically. Both children of divorce and vegans, they are an unlikely match, yet it’s sweet and funny watching them make it work (the scene where they do shrooms is priceless).
But conflict is lurking. The London Film Festival screening of Benjamin’s movie doesn’t go well. This, in turn, puts a strain on the relationship with Noah. Benjamin struggles to regain his footing, and a potential collaboration with Harry takes a surprising (and hilarious) turn. When Benjamin pulls it together enough to apologize to Noah, they have another go at a relationship. This happy period is threatened by a scene involving Benjamin’s ex, Paul (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). But fear not, “Benjamin” delivers a hard-won happy ending.
Amstell (think of him as a gay male Hannah Gadsby) has made a movie that is laugh-out-loud funny, tearjerker sad and thoroughly enjoyable. A comedian himself, Amstell even finds a way to work one of his bits into Stephen’s stand-up comedy routine. While subtitles would have been helpful due to a couple of the thicker accents (the only complaint), “Benjamin” is nevertheless one of this year’s must-see movies.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.