The feature debut from Welsh filmmaker Jamie Adams, Benny & Jolene (2014) – or, to give it its original title, Jolene: The Indie Folk Star Movie, is a diminutive and largely improvised British comedy that takes a look at the fictional uphill struggles of an amateur band desperate to make it big. Purportedly made for as little as £12,500 and shot in less than a week, Adams’ film, in an attempt to make it into the annals of classic low-budget British cinema, assembles a cast of high quality who are clearly game, yet it suffers from the very thing it treats as unique. The film opens with protagonist Jolene (played by TV’s Fresh Meat star Charlotte Richie) directly addressing the camera and surmising, “It’s been a really weird year”.
Journeying back, we’re quickly caught up on her situation with Benny (Submarine’s Craig Roberts), the second half of their folk duo, both of whom are desperate for their second album to be a hit. Attempting to coax their way into the mainstream by embracing the commercial side of the industry – all the while trying to sex up her image, Jolene continues to clash with the Bob Dylan-idolising Benny, who already feels marginalised. Armed with a useless band manager and hopeless wannabe PR guru Nadia (Rosamund Hanson, best known for her role in This Is England), the pair hit the road in a tour bus-cum-mobile home in order to drum up nationwide interest, weathering scarcely populated showcases for an album already garnering scathing reviews (“the lyrics are offensive”, a well-meaning Nadia must relay) in the process.
Though they scoff at being constantly mistaken for a couple, the journey to a festival that could hold the key to larger success forces the titular musicians to confront their ambitions and emotions, and consider taking the next step in their already close-knit relationship. Known for the acclaimed web series All Shook Up, Adams imbues his first directorial outing with a certain amount of affability, which is augmented by the sheer likability of its two leading stars, both of which have a knack for improvisational comedy. However much the awkwardness of the film’s general tone adds to the central will they-won’t they dynamic, the spontaneous dialogue – clearly a workflow necessity – has a rambling effect on the film, with scenes of constant cutting and sloppy editing forming a distracting and detrimental effect on the way the story plays out. Adams and his actors attempt to do something different and more realistic with a somewhat commonplace story, the jarring tonal shifts and beefing up of an already slim runtime with as many takes as possible rob Benny & Jolene of the potential it had.