Benny & Joon
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When Benjamin “Benny” Pearl’s parents are killed in a tragic house fire, he assumes full responsibility for his psychologically troubled younger sister. Ignoring the advice of social workers, Benny is determined to take care of Juniper (“Joon”) at home, hiring housekeeper after housekeeper to keep watch over her while he struggles to earn a living as a mechanic.
With Joon’s unpredictable behavior, Benny finds it hard to keep these “housekeepers” in his employ more than a few days. Joon always finds a way to run them off. Frustration over the inability to find someone to watch over Joon and the fact that his own freedom has been severely limited, Benny begins to see his sister as something of a burden. Benny actually begins to consider the social worker’s suggestion of allowing Joon to live in a group home, wishing there was another way.
Benny’s prayers are seemingly answered when Joon attends a poker night with Benny and his friends. When Benny steps outside, Joon decides to try her hand at poker, playing a round and winning the services of one of the players’ relatives. According to his family, Sam is useless. He’s illiterate and just a tad odd, but Joon seems to enjoy his company. Sam runs errands around the house and takes care of Joon, freeing Benny from many of his daily household responsibilities. His Buster Keaton-like antics keep both Benny and Joon amused.
However, when Sam and Joon begin to feel something more than just friendship for one another, things become extremely complicated for everyone involved. What happens next could very well send Joon spiraling down a psychological abyss from which she may never return.
Benny & Joon is a charming love story with a hidden message – never judge a book by its cover. The movie challenges its viewers to look deeper into its characters and see the true depth each one possesses. Benny & Joon also challenges the stereotype of the mentally ill, daring its viewers to see Joon as an extraordinary person, rather than a psychotic murderer or a drooling lump. It gives viewers a new perspective on the mentally ill. A person who is mentally ill can be an artist, can look as “normal” as you and I, can be extremely intelligent and can fall in love.
Over the past three decades of her acting career, Mary Stuart Masterson always puts her all into every role she has played. An angst-ridden tomboyish teenager in love with her best friend (Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful)…a fun-loving free spirit with a big heart (Idgie Threadgoode in Fried Green Tomatoes)…a loving mother seeking to escape an abusive husband - each role has been a challenge for the actress who has come through with flying colors. Masterson’s portrayal of Juniper “Joon” Pearl is no exception. The actress brings the character to life, making her real to the viewers. Her portrayal of a paranoid schizophrenic is incredibly believable.
Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Joon’s would-be suitor Sam is light-hearted and enjoyable. His replication of Buster Keaton’s and Charlie Chaplin’s style is spot-on. In watching Depp’s performance as Sam, one begins to understand the young man’s quirkiness. What seems like strange behavior is actually recognizable as a way for Sam to escape critical observation. If he is making people laugh, they will ignore his faults, such as his inability to read. Escaping into his world of laughter, Sam often times seems naïve. Depp has shown tremendous skill in portraying characters like this such as his role as Edward in Edward Scissorhands. His portrayal of Sam endears him to the viewer, causing them to root for his cause.
Aidan Quinn is outstanding as Benjamin “Benny” Pearl. The conflicting range of emotions brought on by his performance alternate in inspiring anger, compassion, pity and disbelief from scene to scene. One moment the viewer loves him for all that he has done for his sister. The very next minute they hate him for his lack of understanding and compassion.
Benny & Joon has an incredible supporting cast including such notables as Julianne Moore, Oliver Platt, CCH Pounder, Dan Hedaya and William H. Macy. The cinematography is perfect, reflecting Joon’s multitude of moods, ranging from incredibly dark to bright and cheery. The musical soundtrack fits the movie perfectly scene for scene with songs such as I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers, Have A Little Faith In Me by John Hiatt, Can’t Find My Way Home by Joe Cocker and more.
The DVD version of Benny & Joon contains a limited amount of extras. What little is offered is rather disappointing. There are only two deleted scenes and those are ruined by as they can only be viewed along with a running commentary by Jeremiah Chechik. You can’t hear a thing going on in the scenes! The Costume and Make-Up Tests, as well as the Stunt Reel, are rather boring and unnecessary. The Stunt Reel shows Johnny Depp practicing for his very physical antics in the movie, while The Costume and Make-Up Tests show the main characters in varieties of lighting, costume, color, etc. The commentary over the Tests section is rather bland and will probably put you to sleep if you care little about cinematography and lighting. In fact, probably the best parts of the DVD special features are the theatrical trailer and the music video for The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).
Regardless of the DVD’s lack of enjoyable special features, Benny & Joon is still a terrific movie. Light-hearted comedy mixed with drama and blended with romance, Benny & Joon is sure to become a favorite of the romantic at heart.