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Benny & Jolene – Review
June 5, 2014
My profound love for folk music and my addiction to live gigs, especially those of up and coming acoustic singers/songwriters that I discover for the first time during said gigs, probably makes me the ideal type of audience member that connects with a film like Benny & Jolene. But there’s so much more to enjoy within the tight running time of this very low budget, music-themed romantic comedy of sorts, shot in mockumentary fashion. After all, it is indeed a quirky love story.
Benny and Jolene, played to absolute perfection by Craig Roberts (Submarine) and Charlotte Ritchie (TV’s Fresh Meat), have met in high school when apparently Jolene rescued Benny from an episode of bullying. Since then, they’ve become not just friends but a folk music duo. They’ve made an indie album that has brought them a certain success in their small niche and has now granted them a guest appearance on one of those cheesy morning talk shows. That’s when we first meet this adorably awkward pair of friends, as they are being led inside a TV studio without much preparation for their interview with an overly egotistical and idiotic couple of talk show hosts.
Now let’s back track for a moment and acknowledge how the film kicks off with Jolene breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience to introduce the story. That’s just a frame device that’s going to be book-ended by her only other similar appearance to wrap things up at the end. It’s a way to justify the mockumentary style writer/director Jamie Adams has chosen to tell the story, since from now on, handheld cameras follow our characters around through their attempted troubled journey to fame. Caught in the hands of their incompetently goofy manager (the hilarious Keiron Self) and his equally impaired and useless assistant, Benny and Jolene are tentatively being sold to the big machine before they’ve truly established themselves or have even defined their artistic identity.
The grotesque opening at the morning talk show immediately gives a pretty good idea of the clusterfuck this naïve duo have gotten themselves into as they wind up performing their hit single via an extremely awkward and shamelessly out of sync auto-tune. But what becomes clear from the start is that Jolene is the one steering the wheel towards the rise to fame. Benny is evidently uncomfortable with being exposed to all this attention and is also having a hard time coping with their freshly acquired record label pushing them to write a “more poppy and sexy” second album. Nadia, their clueless publicist played to hysterical effect by Rosamund Hanson, is perennially on the phone collecting more absurd notes from the label about the requested new direction for the duo. Like basically every other character in the film that’s part of the music industry she’s an irresistible caricature that populates the nutty reality of what it means to try and break into the scene.
What lies beneath this wittily funny spoof is a cute romance or at least a potential one. Since the very beginning it’s obvious how Benny is overly infatuated with Jolene who on the contrary is oblivious to her music partner’s feelings. A quite hilarious exchange about her thinking for a while that he might be gay is only one of several awkward moments when Ben practically throws himself at her while she only pretends in order to gain some inspiration for their music’s new sexy direction. As the couple scores a spot at a festival and gets on the road on a small RV with their entire crazy entourage and even Jolene’s lesbian moms following behind, their feelings are inevitably going to be exposed and put to the test. In the end, this is more Jolene’s quest to figure out what she really wants and how she really feels since Benny seems quite adamant about where he stands on both her and their music.
Brimming with irresistibly idiosyncratic humour from its very opening, Benny & Jolene is a fresh and hilariously truthful parody of the music industry wrapped with a tight bow around an endearingly cute love story. Some may find the mockumentary style redundant at times, but there’s no denying that writer/director Jamie Adams has crafted an original feature debut, evidently influenced by his TV comedy background, aiming at your heart while tickling your belly with many a laugh. The whole cast is perfect with Craig Roberts and Charlotte Ritchie winning the gold for their effortless authenticity and naturalism at portraying the most awkwardly adorable young romance I’ve seen in a while. Despite its small scope and thin storyline, Benny & Jolene is one of those little films that at least try to offer a fresh and unique storytelling voice and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it gain instant cult status.
Benny & Jolene is out in selected UK cinemas and VOD on Friday June 6th
Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor