Benny & Joon

1993, Movie, PG, 98 mins

Review

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A gentle comedy about two misfits--a schizophrenic girl and a boy whom earlier generations would have called an odd duck--who find love, BENNY & JOON means well but overdoses on whimsy.

Benny Pearl (Aidan Quinn) is a smart, handsome mechanic who has dedicated his life to caring for his sister Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), a creative free spirit with a dangerous penchant for setting fires. Sam (Johnny Depp) is a lovable misfit who does a fine Buster Keaton imitation but is functionally illiterate and a trial to his family. Sam and Joon complement one another, allowing Benny to date and enjoy a taste of freedom, but when he realizes they've fallen in love, the stage is set for a family crisis.

BENNY & JOON is one in a long line of films in which mental illness is conceived as making people more creative, honest, perceptive, and loving--in a word, better--than sane people. The script appears several times on the verge of testing dangerous waters--there's a hint of incestuous closeness in the siblings' relationship--but always retreats in favor of focusing on how cute Sam and Joon are as they bring a fresh perspective to such mundane activities as cooking: she whips up peanut butter and cereal milkshakes, he mashes potatoes with a tennis racket, and together they make grilled cheese with an iron.

If the performances were as cute and sweet as the characters, the film would need a warning label. But Depp's Sam is delicately touching, a maladjusted waif with both soul and grit, and Masterson resists the temptation to soften Joon. leave a comment

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