Benny & Joon is a film that wades headlong into dangerous waters: a whimsical, light-hearted, romantic comedy about mental illness.
Benny (Aidan Quinn) is a car mechanic and certified nice guy – so nice, in fact, that he has sacrificed his entire personal life for the cause of minding his disturbed sister Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson) and keeping her out of dreaded institutions.
As the cinema's generally lousy depictions of the mentally ill go, the portrait of dysfunctional Joon isn't too offensive.
Love don't live here anymore for either Benny or Joon, so in strolls Sam (Johnny Depp), a clown-like waif with a gift for pantomime. When he's not mooning around treetops, Sam is an admirable film buff: at one moment brandishing a copy of Robert Benayoun's rhapsodic book The Look of Buster Keaton, the next moment mouthing lines from a Z grade slasher flick.
As for Benny, he must learn to loosen up and accept the love that another newcomer (Julianne Moore) is offering him.
Jeremiah Chechik's film, written by Barry Berman, tries hard to be gently uplifting, but in so doing avoids many delicate areas. The sexual relationship between Joon and Sam remains unexplored and, as in Crazy in Love (1992), the problem of caring for the handicapped is wiped away by a climactic set-piece of feel-good high jinks.
Still, Benny & Joon has its occasional charms.
© Adrian Martin March 1994