Sam: Johnny Depp
Joon: Mary Stuart Masterson
Benny: Aidan Quinn
Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik
Romantic comedies are a dime-a-dozen and very few are worth a dime. When
the rare good romantic comedies break through the familiar formulas of its predecessors, it is worth mentioning. Benny and Joon is one such film.
It is interesting to think that if you throw some well-conceived quirks into an average script, you can get gold. Benny and Joon is not above this idea.
It follows a basic format, but uses the eccentricities of its great characters to rise above the normal trappings of
Benny (Aidan Quinn) is
a mechanic in small town America, putting time in at the garage, then heading home to see what his schizophrenic sister Joon
(Mary Stuart Masterson) has been up to. When their parents died years earlier,
he was given the responsibility of caring for Joon, and has been going through the hardships that come with the task ever
At the beginning of the film, Benny comes home to find that Joon has fired their housekeeper. Apparently, this has happened before. Joon is generally good-
natured, but also what seems to be on-edge quite a bit, always ready to disagree.
Joon’s doctor (CCH Pounder) thinks it may be time for her to move into a state-run facility. As much as it hurts Benny to think of letting her go into a place like that, he starts to wonder if it
is for the best for both of them. Benny’s personal life has suffered due
to his strict worrying about the welfare of his sister and it appears it may be wearing on him.
Benny often meets up with his rag tag group of buddies for a poker game. When
they play, they bet objects – baseball tickets, snorkels, etc. – instead of the familiar money. One night, Benny is outside with his friend from the garage, Eric (Oliver Platt), discussing putting Joon
somewhere other than Benny’s home. In the meantime, the other players get
restless and Joon takes a seat at the table to play a few hands while Benny and Eric talk outside. Joon bets big and loses big, gaining the odd concession of a cousin of one of the players who had been
part of the pot.
That’s how Sam (Johnny Depp) meets Joon and changes everything. Sam
is a die hard Buster Keaton fan and goes as far as to dress and act like the famed silent film actor. But Sam is more than surface quirks. He himself doesn’t
really say much and is not above taking weird approaches to the housekeeping tasks he is given when he moves in with Benny
Before long, love blossoms between Sam and Joon and a different kind of love triangle forms. Benny wants to protect his sister, perhaps too much. Sam wants
to be with Joon, enough to push her limits past their threshold. And caught in
the middle is the headstrong Joon, sure she wants more, but unsure how she can get there.
Benny and Joon is a sweet movie. It may prove to be sugary for
some, but I think the pleasantness should be embraced because the film takes such a hard, unusual route to reach its ending. It accomplishes the rare feat of getting to a happy ending and deserving it.
Depp is amazing in a role
flavored with quirks and chances to play with the deliveries of his lines and particularly in the many reactions he displays
so well with his face. It is a great role and I am convinced that many actors
could have done a good job with it, but what sets Depp apart is the obvious work he puts into making the role his own. It is a great addition to the unique characters in Depp’s filmography.
Mary Stuart Masterson is a big revelation as Joon, playing the mentally challenged character with considerable warmth
and untouched edge. Playing mentally challenged characters often boils down to
a comedic role laced with the work of those actors who tackled such roles before them.
But Joon is different and Stuart Masterson knows that. She is a “real”
person with everything that comes along with that designation. She plays Joon
with all the care and skill that should be attached to the role. It makes me
wonder what made her fall from the stardom she seemed primed to capture from this role.
Quinn is good as Benny. He plays a variety of emotions well, but at times,
I felt myself wondering what other actors could have done with the role. Quinn
doesn’t slight the film, but I thought that he may have been able to do more.
It is a difficult role to tackle because he is in essence the straight man to all the comedic foils around him, and
there are many.
I would place Benny and Joon in the “chick flick” category, because I think it belongs there, but
I have recently angered friends with the use of the familiar film term. Perhaps
rightly so. Benny and Joon does not fit into the mold of any one genre, but most
accurately can be called a romantic comedy. But there are also elements of drama,
light-hearted comedy, and small town life that hasn’t yet become a sub-genre yet, but probably should sometime soon. So, in the end, Benny and Joon belongs in the “good movie” designation
more than anything else.
P.S. – Guys, you can watch this with your girlfriends and you might actually like it. I think you should.