Movie Review – Benny and Joon

‘Benny and Joon’ is a romantic comedy, released in 1993 starring Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson and Aidan Quinn. A film by Metro Goldwyn Mayer, ‘Benny and Joon’ is a very sweet movie of love and understanding, showing how two strange and eccentric individuals discover each other and fall in love. The film is popular for Depp’s physical comedy acts as Sam, inspired by Buster Keaton’s silent film comic and also by Charlie Chaplin to a certain extent.

Rated as PG, ‘Benny and Joon’ was directed by Jeremiah Chechik. It’s a story of Benjamin Pearl (Benny), a small-town auto mechanic, who devoted his life to take care of his mentally ill sister, Juniper Pearl (Joon). Joon is a talented artist but she can’t live on her own because she has schizophrenia and her violent and unpredictable behavior drives away everyone. Joon accepts the fact that she is different but thinks that her behavior is not strange or wrong. In one particular scene, while losing a game of table-tennis to Benny, she tries to cheat but defends herself by saying that, don’t underestimate the mentally ill. We know how to count.

As Joon’s condition gets more uncontrollable, her psychiatrist recommends Benny to send her to a group care facility. This puts him in a dilemma as he believes that he is taking care of Joon very efficiently and she doesn’t need to leave the house.

Here enters Sam (Johnny Depp) – a relative of Benny’s friend who dislikes Sam because he is an odd cinemaphile.

The relative stability of Benny and Joon’s life is shaken with this newcomer who impresses them with his eccentric acts of physical comedy and proves a good housekeeper for Joon. Joon and Sam are attracted towards each other from the very start and gradually develop a romantic relationship. They understand and respect each other as is clear from Sam’s statement to Benny, “You know, it seems to me that, except for being a little mentally ill, she (Joon) is pretty normal.” But Benny is unable to comprehend their deep love and connection. When he finds out about their romantic involvement, he gets agitated and is shaken to realize that his sister is old enough to fall in love. His possessiveness for Joon leads to a rough argument between the siblings as he is not able to accept their changing relationship and Joon’s newly found independence.

The movie brings out the complicated relationship between siblings – that how they love each other unconditionally but at the same time its necessary to give each other some space; and respect each other’s choices. It also explores the theme that how it is difficult for differently-abled people to survive in the society and how they can be healed by love and support, as shown in case of Joon.  The audience is easily drawn towards the simple and uncomplicated lovestory of Sam and Joon.

Johnny Depp has done complete justification to the role of Sam through the adorable comic acts. He was nominated for the Golden Globe Best Comic Actor Award for this movie and is one of Depp’s most remarkable performances before the ‘Pirates of Caribbean’ series. Mary Stuart Masterson has done a fine job as Joon, and Aidan Quinn, who had replaced Woody Harrelson at the last minute for the role, efficiently portrayed a hard-working and responsible big brother, Benny. ‘Benny and Joon’ is one of those films which was not noticed much when it released initially (a modest hit), but has eventually gathered a huge fan following over the years.

The film is best known for popularizing the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by ‘The Proclaimers’. The movie starts with Joon painting and Sam traveling in a train while reading Buster Keaton’s comic with this song playing in the background. The song helps in setting the right mood for the light, fun movie and was nominated for MTV Best Movie Song Award. One of my personal favourites from the movie is the song “Have a little faith in me” by John Hiatt. Rest all soundtracks are by Rachel Portman who has done a commendable job, with the music exactly matching the idiosyncratic and innocent characters. Overall, the music is quite good and it’s easy to recall the scenes from the movie while listening to its soundtrack.

But the film falls short of matter. It’s classified as a romantic comedy – though it doesn’t have enough of either.  The screenplay is sprinkled with elements of drama and fantasy. Inspite of the ingenious theme by writer Barry Berman, the main character of Joon seems to be over-shadowed at several occasions due to marginal script. Depp’s outstanding performance as lovable Sam and Aidan Quinn’s credible acting as a responsible brother steals the show from Mary Stuart Masterson. A film with a mature theme like this definitely needed stronger characterization.

Nonetheless, ‘Benny and Joon’ is a nice off-beat movie. With its light, fun and innovative plot, Benny and Joon is a family movie which guarantees entertainment. It subtly carries the message of silent love and understanding – not just between Joon and Sam but also between Benny and Joon; and one can watch it again and again without getting bored.

Mahima Tanej

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