Depp continued his early nineties love of starring as offbeat characters, the type of characters that most actors would avoid taking on for fear of embarrassment or losing credibility. It may be true that very few actors have the ability to carry off such characters with skill, and make them believable and charming. Depp is the master of these roles, and in Benny and Joon he again proves his great talent and versatility. He may be the big name, and steals most of the scenes he is in, but the surrounding cast and story make it an enduring film of bittersweet romance and tries to prove that there is hope for all of us when it comes to love.
Benny and Joon were orphaned at a young age, and Benny has spent the greater part of his life looking after his mentally ill younger sister. Joon is slightly unbalanced and sometimes gets herself in trouble by burning things and causing ‘public disturbances’. Benny works as a mechanic in a garage, has never been away from home or had a proper relationship as he feels he must always look after Joon. Recently Joon has been getting more unstable leading psychiatrists to advise that she be put in a home under care. Benny wants to live a normal life but cannot leave his sister. Joon is an incredibly smart and talented young woman but would never ask to be put in a home. On one of their regular poker nights Benny’s friends play cards with Joon as Benny is late. The stakes are high- a week’s washing, a troll toy etc. One friend puts his newly found cousin Sam in the pot, a 26 year old who can’t read and spends his time watching movies and emulating Buster Keaton. Joon loses, and Benny has a new house guest. At first he seems odd, but as time goes on he proves to be a source of goodness in the household, and Joon falls for him. Sam also manages to get local waitress and B-Movie star Ruthie involved with Benny. However, when Benny finds out what has been going on between Sam and Joon he is furious, leading to Joon being committed. Benny realises his mistakes and asks Sam to help bring Joon back.
Above all this is a warm hearted tale with some good performances. Depp is superb when getting up to his supposedly unusual antics, Masterson manages well with an equally difficult role, and Quinn holds it together with his subtle performance of a character who must cope with the weirdness around him. Moore provides fine support as Ruthie, and there are a few funny moments. The film does not push for laughs or heart-felt tears and therefore is quietly charming and should hopefully leave most with a feeling of good-will afterwards. The director deals with mental illness as many before have, that it makes a person more lovable, and whether or not this is true it does not get in the way of the plot. Joon does not seem that different from everyone else, and Sam is a born entertainer, but a spontaneous one who should not be put on stage. It may be too slow and subtle for some, and it doesn’t have the look or emotion of Edward Scissorhands, but it is nevertheless a fine movie and one which was destined to have a cult following.
The DVD only comes with a trailer, a making of and commentary would have also been nice, but at under a fiver it’s a bargain.
As always, please fee free to share your comments on the film- was this one offbeat character too far for Depp? Are you insanely in love with the movie?