Billed as an “offbeat romantic comedy,” Benny & Joon tackles some serious subjects with a sly and compassionate sense of humor. Besides, seeing the relatively early performances of this stellar cast — including Johnny Depp’s incredible Buster Keaton shtick — is certainly worth the price of renting the DVD or putting it in your Netflix queue.
Benny (Aidan Quinn) and his sister Joon, short for Juniper (played by Mary Stuart Masterson of Fried Green Tomatoes and other quirkily interesting films), have shared a house ever since their parents died. Immersed in a colorful world of painting, Joon struggles with a fragile mental and emotional state that leaves her prone to starting fires. Benny keeps them afloat by operating an auto repair shop. He also plays poker with his buddies and is determined to care for Joon on his own. But he hesitates to consider a personal relationship for himself.
Then one night, Joon sits in with Benny and his buddies for a hand of poker. And she wins! The catch? The pot includes Sam (Johnny Depp), a headache-inducing cousin of one of Benny’s poker friends, who operates with his own ‘unbalanced’ approach to life. As a way to get Sam out of the house, the cousin ‘bets’ him in the poker hand Joon wins. Benny’s not happy about the bet and Joon’s success, but he doesn’t feel right about turning Sam out. So the trio take the first steps toward a new life together.
In its good-hearted and subtle way, the film explores the nature of being a misfit and how the concept may only be in the mind of the beholder. With hilarious physical comedy by Depp (roller-skating through housework and doing Buster-Keaton-in-the-park), as well as rich and understated performances by Quinn, Masterson, and others, this little gem of a film gets its message across with wit and heart. The DVD extras include deleted scenes, costume and make-up tests, as well as more on Depp’s antic stunts.
Cast: Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, Aidan Quinn, Oliver Platt, Julianne Moore, Dan Hedaya
Director: Jeremiah Chechik
Screenplay: Barry Berman
Theatrical release: 1993; DVD release: 2001
Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos