I’m not really sure why I never watched Benny & Joon (1993), but I’m glad that I finally did. This quirky love story, directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik, features one of my favorite performances by Johnny Depp. It is currently available to watch on Amazon Prime – and, if you’re like I was, you should definitely check it out.
Benny & Joon was charming and features what may be my favorite Johnny Depp performance
Benny (Aidan Quinn) is a mechanic who has been putting aside his own life in order to take care of his mentally ill sister, Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson). Joon loses a poker match, and Benny is forced to take in Sam (Johnny Depp), an odd guy who has modeled himself after Buster Keaton. Sam attempts to fill the void of caretaker after Joon chased away another one, but romance soon sparks.
Depp’s portrayal of Sam – and by proxy, Buster Keaton – is a source of pure joy. Fans of Keaton and his films will certainly recognize some iconic bits from the old silent films. For example, Sam is having dinner at a local diner with Benny and Joon, when he stabs two rolls with silverware and begins dancing with them. It is hilarious and endearing to his character.
However, my favorite scene in the film occurs later, when Benny, while at a park, sees for the first time what we all see in Sam. It starts with Sam’s hat getting knocked to the ground. When he attempts to retrieve it, the hat moves away seemingly sentient. This continues in a slapstick fashion, and a crowd gathers. It’s a scene that is a great tribute to the physical comedy Keaton was known for, and Depp delivers in a big way.
Joon’s mental health and its treatment may not hold up by today’s standards. It is mostly used for humor early in the film, as we are shown her quirks – and they are mostly dismissed early on. However, I felt that it was treated as a serious concern for her own well-being, and the debate of her living at home with Benny, or in an assisted living facility, drives the drama. Joon was an easy character to root for, and once she finds herself attracted to Sam, the film’s complexity only deepens.
Benny & Joon is a fun rom-com that feels like a showcase of Depp’s talent. It’s a shame that he would wind up playing many of his later roles as too quirky or too Jack Sparrow-y. Luckily, his ‘90s films are a strong reminder of the talent he has. This film earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.