Benny and Joon is an old Johnny Depp movie of 1993. You probably won’t find this in your local video store and you might have to download or rent it online. It’s a little gem of a movie with an indy feeling about it. There is some drama that makes you think, especially about mental illness. There is a lot of kookiness that makes you chuckle in delight, and you wish you knew characters like those in the movie. They are so graphic, so defined and so unpredictable, they are almost like cartoon characters – just a bit too off the wall to ever find in real life. And that makes the magic.
Benny (Aidan Quinn) is an overprotective brother who lives with and takes care of his younger and mentally ill sister Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson). She is obviously a schizophrenic, who is an artist and gardener at their house when she is well, and who rages at her brother during her dark spells. Through a twist of luck they end up taking in a houseguest on a temporary basis by the name of Sam (Johnny Depp). Sam is a goofy character who definitely does not have all his marbles arranged the conventional way. But he surprises us with insight, intelligence, articulateness and empathy. For some unknown reason he seems obsessed with Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, who he emulates in real life. He speaks very little and communicates with smiles, frowns, smirks, shrugs and an occasional backward somersault that seems to come out of nowhere. You might guess that’s a hard character to play, and you would guess right. Johnny Depp does it masterfully. We see a great artist at work.
The story is a simple one where eventually and as we guess inevitably, Sam and Joon fall in love. It’s a quirky love, almost like two 4 year olds would love, but it works, and it seems to outshine all the love of the adults around them.
This is a little jewel of a movie, simple on the surface, without things blowing up, without violence, without sex and without guns. Just great and sunny entertainment as we watch Sam, a delightful character we wish we knew in person.