In the early 2000’s, if you enjoyed the latest pop tunes, then you probably regularly indulged in the C4 ‘yoof’ show, Popworld. It didn’t really matter who was featured, as its presenters were the main draw – Simon Amstell and Miquita Oliver – who were like a young, subversive Richard and Judy.
Amstell continued the musical theme by taking over hosting the popular BBC music quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks, where he continued to rub pop stars up the wrong way.
He them popped up again in the noughties with a great TV sitcom that he wrote and starred in, Grandma’s House, which didn’t outstay its welcome, with only two series aired.
Since then his profile hasn’t exactly been Romesh Ranganathan standards, but then whose are? Recently, he appears to have turned his back on the small screen, in favour of dabbling with film-making. This release, marking his second stab as writer and director, feels about as autobiographical as a work of fiction can get.
After achieving an impressive milestone in making his first film – albeit one that very few had the opportunity to see – Benjamin (Colin Morgan) is looking for his next project. As he’s not the most confident of human beings, in work or in life, this process is hardly natural to him.
He and his friend Stephen (Joel Fry), a journeyman comedian, are invited by Benjamin’s PR Billie (Jessica Raine) to a trendy media party in London. As social events go it’s quite hard work, but at least he gets introduced to the music act that caught his eye, French singer Noah (Phénix Brossard).
Despite his social anxieties, the pair hook-up, and finally Benjamin feels as if the world is on his side. But the world can be a fickle old thing, and doesn’t exactly make it plain sailing for all concerned.
They do say write what you know, and it feels that that’s exactly what Amstell has done here. Morgan may have an Irish accent, but everything about him screams Amstell. Morgan epitomizes the writer/director, presenting him as a North London version of Woody Allen, just without all the dubious sex allegations.
It’s a touching portrayal, of a tortured talent that has awkwardness as his default setting. There’s some strong support from the likes of both Fry and Raine, who would ideally have their own spin-off show together, focusing on the kind of embarrassing interactions you would have to watch through your fingers. They do offer the majority of the laughs though, of which there are plenty, as Amstell not only explores the fragile nature of any relationship, but also the wankery of the London media scene.
Perhaps the weakest link is the relationship between Benjamin and Noah; Brossard undoubtedly has a striking look, but the chemistry is certainly lacking between him and Morgan. It’s just too insipid with the emotional range of a blackboard.
It shouldn’t detract however from a highly entertaining, sharply comical, and occasionally bittersweet depiction of Amstell’s- sorry, Benjamin’s life, as a budding film-maker. On this evidence, we’ve got our fingers crossed excitedly for Popworld – the Movie.