Benny And Joon
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Benny And Joon

Blu-ray

DVD

Most types of films follow a playbook that details what elements, circumstances and situations must be present to define any specific variety. This includes the perennial date night favorite, the romantic comedy better known simply as the rom-com. More than most flicks this type typically adheres very strongly to the established blueprint. As such when a romantic comedy comes around that dares to venture off in a different path it is at least novel enough to be interesting. Frequently for lack of a better description suck movies get placed in the quirky category which while it may be accurate can result in underestimating the film. An example of this can be found in the odd little film ‘Benny and Joon’. The film stars Johnny Depp so you know that ‘quirky’ is going to be an understatement. Ultimately the film doesn’t disappoint in its ability to rise to the occasion. Most of the time there is an eccentric character in a rom-com but usually they are the best friend a part added to provide a distinctive touch of flavor to the proceedings. With ‘Benny and Joon’ both the titular characters are a step past eccentric and well on to delightfully weird. This film was sufficiently unique to hold together just on the novelty factor alone. Fortunately, the creativity behind this movie provides a means for it to rise above the banality typically associated with rom-coms to a wonderfully eclectic film that deserves its status as a cult classic. If you are not already a fan one viewing will correct that. There is now a new way to watch since MGM has included ‘Benny and Joon’ in their ongoing project of releasing some of the best representative movies in their vast catalogue in high definition. These Blu-ray titles may be older films but watching in this enhanced format is the ideal way to get into the film or revisit an old cinematic friend. Not only should movie buffs take advantage of the Blu-ray of this film but take a look round for other MGM high definition classics; it is a great way to fill in the gaps in your personal film library.

In a rom-com a chart of interpersonal associations and familiar relationships are often a bit complicated but in this film they seem just a little more convoluted. Mike (Joe Grifasi) is a nice enough guy but his life is more complicated than he would like. Most of the disruption is a result of his sister Juniper (Mary Stuart Masterson), better known simply as Joon. The young woman is mentally challenged, undiagnosed within the story, but it does adversely affect her ability to function in social situations. The main manifestation of her affliction is a tendency to random manic outbursts which makes it difficult for Benny to leave unsupervised. The behavioral peculiarities make it impossible for Mike to keep a housekeeper. Just as fast as he can hire one Joon manages to drive them away. Finally Sam turns to his friend Benny (Aidan Quinn) who has a cousin who might be willing to take the job. Sam (Johnny Depp) is a barely literate but as a rabid cinemaphile tends to filter the portion of reality that reaches his mind through his exceeding large list of favorite movies. Sam, feeling responsible in some fashion for Sam’s well being he arranges for him to try the job out. Despite the title the relationship that develops and matters most from the perspective of the story is between Joon and Sam. One evening they stop off at a local diner where Sam recognizes the waitress, Ruthie (Julianne Moore) from an old horror flick. Sam proves up to the job by cleaning the house but is startled by one of Joon’s manic episodes and is initially scared away. He offers an olive branch of sorts in the form of as jack in the box. He is asked back and willingly accepts. Ruthie quickly assumes a protective attitudee to the pair taking them to run some errands about town. While Sam is opening up to Joon Benny is becoming romantically drawn to her. Most of her life she was the one needing help but it becomes evident that Sam needs her for routine tasks that are beyond him such as writing a letter to his mother or filling out a job application at the video store.

This opens the film up to a theme that is a personal favorite; two people unable to function on their combining to form a fully functional couple. The last time I saw this theme handled this well was Hal Hartley’s ‘Trust’. That took the story in a more serious tack but the dark humor employed here works very well. The story in itself is admittedly thin, little more than a framework for a presentation of unusual character portrayals. Jeremiah S. Chechik has been a fairly steadily working director although much of that work has been with eccentric television series like ‘Middleman’ and Leverage’. He has flair to such off beat stories that comes out here in the most humorous way possible. It also should be noted that while Depp is best known for drama and a flamboyant pirate his genius as a physical comedian. Consistent with Sam’s infatuation with old movies Depp channels the physical humor of some of the great comedians of the silent film era; Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Only Robert Downey Jr. has ever brought Chaplin’s style back to life as well as shown here. He basically steals the show here making it a performance to marvel at. This film has flaws, true, but they make the movie all that more endearing. It is about the disjointed, offbeat way these two people think and readily captures that process to film. If the movie was polished and refined it could not properly portray the world as see through the eyes of some rather extraordinary individuals. In Blu-ray the performance take on great depth and realism as the textures and color palette deem more realistic. This offers a stark contrast to the fantasy world woven by the characters.

Posted 04/19/11

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