“You’re looking at it like I’ve come on this trip just to get into your pants; I’ve come here to enjoy it and… both,” Benny (Craig Roberts) to Jolene (Charlotte Ritchie)
Making it in the music industry has never been so in our faces, thanks to primetime television “talent” shows. Cinema over the last year has reflected the trend, through the likes of INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE? and now BENNY & JOLENE. Coming at career aspiration from different genres, the above have gone for drama, romance and comedy respectively, to varying degrees of success.
Glaring plot inconsistencies are initially glossed over due to BENNY & JOLENE’s hilarious first half. Launching into a squirm-inducing catalogue of entertainment industry foibles - narcissism, avarice, selfishness, pettiness, incompetence, disorganisation – indie folk duo Ben and Jo are doing their first daytime magazine show, ‘This Morning’, to promote a debutante album. Almost fly on the wall, the camera gets right into the posturing and bickering. This Morning’s presenters hate each other. Why is album producer Tommy (Tom Rosenthal) in the green room? Yet there he is, self-consciously wearing Dr Dre ‘Beats’ headphones, talking to Nadia (a scene-stealing Rosamund Hanson), who is in charge of promotion.
At only 19 years old, Ben and Jo are hailed as an “indie folk sensation”, yet when on the road no one turns up to a signing. Being on a mainstream breakfast TV show must have meant they have reached a certain level of fame surely? Thus begins the querying of story logic. After a deer-caught-in-the-headlights miming fiasco live on the googlebox, the two dissect where they stand. The relationship falters too under prolonged scrutiny. When they converse, the things they ask each other is as if they have just met, rather than at the stage where they've finished their first album.
Hunting the muse for the next release, which the record company wants to be more commercial, Jo instigates sex with Ben, who clearly is really into her. Jo sees him as a brother, yet still proceeds. Foreplay is riotous, including earlobe rubbing and performance anxiety, all while Jo is taking notes to find her inspiration. Getting a spank, she opines her conflicting emotions of finding it both sexy and offensive. Needless to say, consummation evaporates off the agenda. However, song ‘Hard Soft’ is the result.
To drum up celebrity, the label sends them to a festival in Wales. When on the tour bus, the humour dissipates in favour of traditional romantic plotting. The whole will-they-won't-they jarred with lack of believability, down to the awful writing feelings on cards in a Bob Dylan-stylee. It's such a shame, as for much of it they were onto a winner. Not a bad experience, just a waste of potential. Crafting a cutting comedy on solipsism, a world where everyone talks and no one listens, might have been talked about in the same breath as THIS IS SPINAL TAP, had the makers tightened up the narrative, while avoiding a dilution of their observational wit.