Paving your way to fame and fortune via the music industry has never been met with much more than avarice, falsity, and narcissism, despite its somewhat overwhelming myriad of depictions in recent years. Benny & Jolene is no different. In fact, the film goes one step further and tacks on just about any character flaw you could think of in the guise of “indie-quirk” kookiness – though it somehow avoids the “twee” status you can’t help but feel it so desperately strives for. This is in part due to first time writer/director Jamie Adams’ dual DP decision. Filmed part Made In Chelsea, part The Office, Adams’ faux-documentary styling becomes notably stilted by it’s own visual indecision. The constant switching between smooth-as-silk soft focus portraiture, to the hard and gritty realism of deep focus photography is as disorientating as it is out of place. Characters tend to get bokeh’ed in and out of their own conversations as Adams’ cinematographers struggle to keep their subjects in focus – though this does lend to some truly beautiful shots at times, despite its somewhat patchworked employment of both auratic and verité modes of address.
Jolene, played by Charlotte Ritchie (Fresh Meat), and Benny, played by Craig Roberts (Submarine), are possibly the only characters that don’t feel utterly superfluous throughout Adams’ largely ad-libbed narrative framework. There is little, if any time taken to appropriately distinguish lesser roles beyond the involvement of additional eccentricities; ie. exposition is oft-times left at the wayside in favour of a quirky quick-fix. Ordinarily this would not be too much an issue, especially given Benny & Jolene’s “indie-Brit-rom-com” multi-hyphenate heritage, but the regrettable lack of nuanced behaviours sadly renders much of the improvised peculiarities strained and contrived. However, Adams does make time for his two (wholly detestable) protagonists. Jolene and, indeed, Benny, are given an exceptional amount of screen time in the wake of their supporting cast’s largely abated engagement with the narrative flow. What’s perhaps most perplexing about Benny & Jolene is its total disregard for crafting any form of endearment towards its central roles. Nonetheless, despite its interestingly “anti-formula” setup, this film goes in much the way of its generic expectations – which again, would not be an issue ordinarily, but given that Benny and Jolene deserve each other just as much as the audience doesn’t, their copy/pasted love story ultimately becomes as unwarranted as their obnoxious mannerisms.
Ritchie and Roberts are, however, particularly strong throughout. Ritchie’s natural physical comedy, coupled with Roberts’ suitably sullen petulance aids in carrying the film through the often lingering interstice between Benny & Jolene’s anticipatory one-liners. Delivery and temperance are masterfully exercised by the duo, and as such, are likely the most impressive aspects of the film. The two do well to fully integrate themselves within Adams’ solipsistic world-view; selfish and deluded to the point of dysfunction. It’s in this that Adams does well, and this is indeed truly visible within the first half of Benny and Jolene’s self-imposed conundrum. Still, in spite of that, both characters absolutely fail to progress within their given situation – for either the better, or the worse of it, and that’s really at the crux of Benny & Jolene’s wasted comic potential.