Benny and Joon (Movie, 1993)
Dramedy | Romance | Family
Lead Cast: Johnny Depp (Sam), Mary Stuart Masterson (Joon), Aidan Quinn (Benny)
This movie perhaps can be called a classic in that it is beautiful, simple, complex, and delightful. It is a movie made twelve years ago and yet still holds its own without seeming obviously dated or held back. The leaps and bounds that have been made in the film industry since 1993 do not take away from the soul of this film and thus it holds its own and in my eyes becomes a classic.
In case you haven’t seen it yet (then stop reading and go watch it! It’s on Netflix!) here is a brief summary. So the film begins with the Pearl siblings: Benny (played by Aidan Quinn), a car mechanic, who takes care of his mentally ill sister, Joon (played by Mary Stuart Masterson). It’s clear from the start how much Benny loves his sister but also how the constant care and responsibility has been wearing on him. Joon needs supervision but her mood swings and episodes have caused multiple housekeepers to quit. Otherwise Joon is an artist who enjoys painting, drawing, gardening, eating blended up cereal & milk (…gross in my opinion), and trying to live life within the confines of her home and supervision of her brother.
Eventually Sam (played by Johnny Depp), the odd cousin of one of Benny’s friends, ends up as the Pearl’s temporary housekeeper when Joon loses a bet in a poker game. Sam can be described as an artist, illiterate, and a cinephile. One might also think to call him eccentric as he tends to use humor and his special talents to make people smile no matter the who/what/where/when/why but when the serious moments appear he becomes clearly just as serious and aware of the situation. The most obvious time you see this is his love for Joon. It is so clear how he truly loves her, how he isn’t just having a fling or a passing fancy. He loves to make her laugh and he will do anything to protect her. Oh, back to the plot, yeah so the movie follows the triangle of relationships between Benny, Joon, and Sam, (and sometimes the waitress Ruthie (played by Julianne Moore). There is tension, there is laughter, there is drama, there is love, etc. Stuff goes down in the end but then it ends beautifully. El Fin.
Okay so basically, enough about Sam, let’s talk about Johnny Depp. Because he plays this character flawlessly and Sam is the character that, well let’s face it, Sam steals the show. All of the actors were great especially the four main characters (Benny, Joon, Sam, and Ruthie) and that is a relief because it’s so disappointing when you have a star and the rest in comparison become dead weight (like in the movie Maleficent…but that’s another post). All of the actors really seemed to be on the same level with each other in that they worked together wonderfully. You could see and feel the natural team push and pull with their characters’ relationships keeping everything rather organic and highlighting the story first. Sure relationships make up the drive behind a plot but there is always an initial plot that mustn’t be forgotten or overshadowed by relationships (the flaw of many a television show), or shoved aside to make way for an actor (which is just stupid…and rude).
Oh yeah, Johnny Depp. Well like I was saying when I was describing Sam the truthfulness of the character is amazing to see. Depp perfectly balances the whimsical artistic side with his sane and serious side (not that artists aren’t sane…well, I dunno, genius tends to come from those a bit on the edge, yeah?). His facial expressions always seem natural and on point rather than forced or silly. He never goes too far with his odd character but keeps it within the realms of art and possibility. He creates a character that one may or may not have met personally but nevertheless has no problem imaging that he surely exists. Oh, his physical comedy? Hands in the air awesome. One of my many favorite moments in this film (and I’m sure this is almost everyone else’s answer as well but who cares if it’s true) is the park scene with Benny and Joon and Sam. Sam does a wonderful silent physical comedy routine with his hat that reminded me of Charlie Chaplin or something you’d find in that era of comedy (I almost said Three Stooges but no, not quite). This is just another praise to Depp’s talent and commitment to work. In the end an actor could never hope to create such a successful character as Depp has with Sam without the same high level of perseverance, commitment, hard work, and genuine love for acting and one’s character.
Masterson’s portrayal of Joon was also very good in my opinion. She managed to get across her mental illness without insulting the character or the mentally ill community by taking the easy route and just making her totally loony. She successfully showed how the mentally ill are not complete crazies but that yes, in case you somehow weren’t aware, they are people too who feel just as the rest of us do, but perhaps a bit more at times, and long for a full life and the ability to make their own choices as well.
Quinn’s role as Benny was also well done. He did a great job showing the side of the brother, the mechanic, the man, and the caretaker. He did well balancing his complete love for his sister but also the strain of being her full-time caretaker and the sacrifices that that entails.
Moore is always pretty darn great so high-five Julianne Moore! Her role in this film wasn’t the biggest but it was still important because it helped reveal to Benny the need to let go of his tight grip on Joon’s life because not only did it hinder Joon from living a full life but it was exhausting and keeping him from living his life as well. She helped to show him that letting go was possible and didn’t mean that he loved Joon any less. He wasn’t giving up on Joon, he was just giving her space to breathe and make her own choices.
Overall Benny and Joon (1993) was a lovely film. It had all the elements in perfect quantities that united along with talented actors and a worthy plot created a film that will always be a classic worth re-watching.
P.S. The closing scene with Sam and Joon making grilled cheese sandwiches and Benny leaving the flowers is perfect. No need to go overboard when ending a film (a stupid ending with negate all the brilliance that came before it. It’s the last impression the director has to leave with the audience so it’s what will be freshest in their minds…a.k.a. IMPORTANT) and this simple, oh so simple shot was perfect.
Purchase here: Benny and Joon (Amazon.com with pooled ink)