Benny and Joon (1993)

Benny and Joon Movie

In its delicate approach to complex issues of love, family and mental health there is much to admire and enjoy in Benny and Joon.

Rather than take the depressing route there’s a whimsical, cheery feel to the story of a brother and sister living the day-to-day.

Juniper (Mary Stuart Masterson) has mental health issues and paints skilfully in calmer times; Benjamin (Aidan Quinn), a hard working mechanic is stoically committed to guard over her. Their relationship is one of unconditional, sometimes tumultuous love; they are pretty much all that they have until Joon ‘wins’ Johnny Depp’s eccentric Sam, in a poker game.

Mimicking the silent antics of Buster Keaton and Chaplin, Sam initially appears more insane than the clinical Joon, but as a charismatic showman he swiftly brings joy and freedom to the interdependent lives of the siblings with a variety of brilliant mimes and stunts and a proficiency in domestic choirs. Depp delivers a dazzlingly physical, doe-eyed performance that enchants.

And it’s the liberty and laughs he provides that makes the simple developing love with Joon so warming, unconditionally loving her as much as Benny, in turn giving the devoted brother the new dilemma of the possibility of having something more in his life than just caring for his sister. A new world of fun, freedom and perhaps love that’s alien to him after years of enforced responsibility and purpose.

Benny and Joon

It’s the underplaying of the everyday of living with ill health that is Benny and Joon’s equal carefree strength and idealistic weakness; it’s mostly a safe affair that’s undoubtedly full of innocent heart but more dramatic and revealing episodes would have said more with only a few mild shows of anxiety; a stressful episode in an aborted ‘escape’ saddens, but it’s a scant glimpse of Joon’s true insanity, a diagnosis left undisclosed.

As with nearly all in Benny and Joon, much of their pasts and feelings remain largely unrevealed, leaving a peripheral feeling and a modest dulling to their predicaments.

The how and the why are minimized in what is likely an effort to make for low maintenance viewing with a brief scene – dialogue free, recounting the death of their parents; there’s also no explanation for Sam’s spectacular dealing mechanism, it just simply is, making Benny and Joon as easy, as easy watching gets.

When dealing with such significant issues so passively with few dramatic episodes, there’s a potential for not caring to invest in the central characters, but honest and sincere performances convey the very real-world possibility that such lives continue every day, unspectacularly.  It’s both sad and inspiring, and particularly in Aidan Quinn’s subtle show, admirable to see a loving brother with every right to feel hard done to by life’s cruel hand, remain committed to a childlike sister when institutionalisation would perhaps be a fair course for both, as his life passes him by. When love calls in the shape of Julianne Moore, we see that Benny is just as shy to the workings of the adult world as the childlike lovers.

Aidan Quinn anD Julianne Moore in Benny and Joon

Masterson plays Joon with an efficiency that feels natural and believable; any urge to overdramatize is delicately and considerately underplayed, allowing greater compassion for and connection to a character whose disorder is otherwise challenging to relate to.

Benny and Joon approaches the complexities of insanity and love by blissfully tiptoeing around it; mostly un-dramatic and happy-go-lucky, it works to present a charming, quirky story of simple love and sacrifice without turgid melodrama but instead, plenty of warmth and heart.

new 3 star


15 responses to “Benny and Joon (1993)

  1. Good review bud. Depp is having the time of his life as Benny and it never gets old to watch. Even if the themes are real and serious, the movie still has a light tone to balance it all out well-enough for a distraction.

    • thanks man. I never saw it until a couple of days ago, my late bro always went on about it, so reviewing so long after didn’t know how to place it in some respects, either way I enjoyed it and quite right the themes are real and serious but it’s all balanced nicely to be entertaining.

  2. Classic Depp movie. Always fun to watch. It’s been a while since I watched it though. Might have to watch it again in the near future. Depp’s crazy antics are what makes the movie.

    • Loved Depp of course, loved Quinn too, and I can’t recall really any film of his, even though I know I have seen many of them, he isn’t that unknown. Never seen it until this week, so i’m late to it.

      • It was one that I watched many times when I was a little kid. My older siblings used to watch it all of the time.

        Quinn has had some pretty solid performances. A couple examples are Legends of the Fall (1994), and Blink (1994). More recently he was in Jonah Hex (2010) and Unknown (2011). He was definitely in his prime in the 90’s.

      • Yep Jonah hex hmmmm. He’s fairly famous and was quite productive just never on my radar too much. I watched him in practical magic recently, oh dear. I liked him in Benny and joon for sure.

  3. I’m always up for seeing a great performance by Depp in his earlier days!
    You just totally surprised me by mentioning that Julianne Moore is in this film – she’s my favourite actress so I’m absolutely going to be tracking this one down. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  4. One of Depp’s better performances, I thought. It’s a fun little film with some heart to it, and is definitely memorable. (Sam’s cooking method always comes to mind.) Nice review.

    • Ha ha exactly. I think I am you g to make toast like that someday, he was a good housekeeper for sure. Depp is always good value. Thanks for the visit.

  5. I have never even heard of this film until I read your review. While I don’t specifically like Johnny Depp, he was absolutely hilarious in this film. I actually did like him for once.

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