Benny & Joon (1993)

DVD Cover (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Jeremiah S. Chechik Jeremiah S. Chechik
Johnny Depp Johnny Depp
Mary Stuart Masterson Mary Stuart Masterson
Aidan Quinn Aidan Quinn
Julianne Moore Julianne Moore
Oliver Platt Oliver Platt

7.2 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Genres: Romance, Romantic Comedy
A mentally ill young woman finds her love in an eccentric man who models himself after Buster Keaton. --IMDb
Review by Ginose
Added: July 09, 2010
It's hard to say that I'm a fan of romantic comedies. I mean, to be perfectly honest, I can't even think of many romantic comedies that are even ABOUT romance. Why is that, one could ask, it's because, truthfully, romance isn't funny. Any fucking puck who thinks that you can turn something that is built on horrible expectations, disappointment and destiny into something that you can actually laugh at is an idiot, because there's nothing funny about love or relationships, not to my knowledge. That said, the majority of these are either sex comedies or comedies that never once consider romance the subject of amusement, which is, truthfully, the best way to do it, there's no doubt about that, and a string of half-assed Woody Allen fueled sex-comedies in the 90s are great testament to which works best.

Now, stretch that tarp over here to a movie that, once again, completely oversights the idea of making romance funny, but shifts the comedy to the chemistry of a physical-comedy savvy Johnny Depp and a schizophrenic young Mary Masterson in, what comes across as, one of the softest exploitations of mental-illness I've ever seen.

Benny is a well-spoken, well-liked local mechanic with a functioning garage, good friends and no life. He works far too hard and, atop it all, a schizophrenic younger-sister who can't seem to be left alone, less she makes trouble for herself or others. Unable to give up on Joon, Benny turns down an utterly forced option to send her to a monitored facility to be taken care of, possibly even helped.

Locked in a loop of depression things get even worse when Joon loses a game of poker against Benny's pals and they siblings are stuck taking care of the fellow's "weird" cousin, Sam. Sam has a pension for the old slapstick styling of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, and is more than happy to lend a hand around their house during his stay, and, all the while, is proving to be much more than just an asset to their relatively unstable life... be it a strange one...

I can't think much of "Benny & Joon" for what it is. It's amusing, there's no argument about that and it carries a lot of some strange kind of charisma that just about nothing else in the genre had. Whether or not that's a truly good thing is really up to the viewer, because one of its primary points of interest is on the (dare I say) gimmick of Joon's mental-illness and the way it so sweetly connects her to Sam's own quirks and habits. I use the word "gimmick", however, because that is precisely how it's handled: a gimmick. A grab at attention that has very little to do with the majority of the proceedings and allows itself to be nothing much more than plot padding to keep a secondary conflict available for the audience to connect to and to keep the second titular character relevant enough to make this appear to be a true "romantic comedy".

This probably would offend a lot of people struggling with such illnesses, as well as anyone in a similar situation as Benny in its ham-handed portrayal of the lifestyle it may cause; I, however, was more offended by the fact that such a gimmick was allowed to take center stage to some amazingly amusing moments of actual charm and drive between the varying styles of romance throughout because it came off as nothing more than cheap and, to a lesser degree, annoying at times.

Do I think that hot button takes away from the movie as a whole? No, but I think it greatly dampens what could have been a much more useful character-device and could have told a much more poignant story in the hands of a more capable writer. But the mix of Depp's physical comedy and the great reliance on characters to illustrate plot and setting rather than allowing to unfold on its own (a process I find tedious and far less relevant, as a whole, in romantic comedies these days) sets this one a bit higher than the typical fair that I've become disgustingly used to.

Perhaps too light-hearted for its own depressing material, "Benny & Joon" still has enough charm, comedy and a charismatic cast that truly brings this films ACTUAL feel into full-fruition. With a few story and plot gripes to consider, it's an amazingly fun movie that may touch the heart of many a viewer, though not in the way or to the degree it could have.

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