The silver screen is no stranger to stories about quirky, lonely young souls falling in love. Alienated from the rest of society, these eccentric characters end up bonding over the very traits that made them outcasts in the first place. 'Benny & Joon,' a 1993 romantic dramedy, is a perfect example of such a story. Filled with charming performances and an occasional spark of whimsy, this is a sweet and enjoyable film. Unfortunately, it's held back by some predictable plot developments and conventional cinematic choices.
The story follows Benny (Aidan Quinn) a mechanic, and his mentally unstable sister, Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson). Unable to live by herself, Joon is taken care of by her brother, who sacrifices a personal life of his own in the process. When an eccentric young man named Sam (Johnny Depp) enters the picture, Joon finds a potential kindred spirit, but it might all be dashed away by Benny's desire to put her in a group home. The story itself is sweet with a nice mixture of comedy and drama. There is a fanciful quality to Joon and Sam's romance that stems from their unusual behavior and unique way of looking at the world. The performances from Masterson and Depp are both exceptional. Masterson in particular realizes a potentially tricky character with depth and charm. Depp's Sam is a joy to watch on screen as the dyslexic street performer exudes an awkward but infectious charisma. The scenes Joon and Sam share together are real highlights and demonstrate strong chemistry. The relationship that forms between them and Benny is the core of the film, and how they change each other gives the narrative its emotional arc. Though this is all handled well, the script itself adheres to a disappointingly predictable three act structure, which strays toward convention rather than creativity. There are some great diversions along the way, with Depp's physical comedy antics channeling the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin among them, but these moments aren't strong enough to elevate the straight forward plot and its shortcomings.
Director Jeremiah Chechik has employed a very naturalistic style with 'Benny & Joon' that is mostly fitting but is occasionally at odds with the story. The approach helps to ground the characters and create a realistic and timeless quality, but as a result, it also works to downplay the more unique and whimsical aspects of the script. Thankfully, this isn't always the case, and there are instances of imagination with camera movement and composition, which help to reinforce a fairy tale like aura. One image in particular, near the end of the film, featuring Johnny Depp's character outside a window, has an almost magical quality to it. These sparks of visual imagination show the potential for a more interesting and unique film that unfortunately will go unrealized. Though I understand why Chechik went with a restrained approach, and his reasoning does make sense, it still seems like a few more fanciful touches would have helped enhance the movie.
In the end, 'Benny & Joon' is a sweet and thoughtful film that is unfortunately stifled by predictable plotting and style. The film's blend of drama, humor, and whimsy is handled well, but given the quirks and eccentricities of its characters, it's surprisingly unimaginative. Certain scenes shine brighter than others, revealing the potential for something greater. Still, the performances are strong, with great chemistry between its leads, and the story certainly holds more depth than your average romantic comedy.
Presented with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 'Benny & Joon' looks relatively good. The print itself shows some wear and tear with the occasional scratch and speck, but these imperfections are never too distracting. There is a natural sheen of grain throughout, preserving an authentic film quality.
The movie was shot with a purposefully soft and diffuse look, so details are never razor sharp. There isn't much depth and contrast seems a bit low, giving a slightly washed out look. Colors are fairly nice, but can seem a bit subdued. Black levels are mostly deep, but a few night time scenes appear somewhat gray.
Overall, 'Benny & Joon' is presented in a mostly accurate, but never quite impressive transfer. Nonetheless, it does do the film justice and preserves its intended naturalistic look nicely.
Provided with an English 2.0 DTS-HD MA track, a Spanish Mono track, and a French Dolby Surround track, 'Benny & Joon' sounds just fine. The audio is a bit thin but mostly clean with crisp dialogue. Though only two channels, there is some nice directionality between the left and right speakers with music and effects.
Dynamic range is pretty flat but balance between elements is good. Bass is mostly nonexistent with the exception of a song or two.
Overall, the audio is decent. Though the track does show some age with a lack of fidelity, it still serves the film well.
Fans will be happy to find a decent assortment of supplements, including a feature length commentary from the director. Unless otherwise noted, all the features are presented in standard definition with stereo sound and no subtitle options.
'Benny & Joon' is a sweet film with some strong, likeable performances, but its conventional plotting and style hold it back. The video and audio present the movie well, but aren't exactly impressive. A nice assortment of supplements is included, making this a respectable package. Fans should be happy with this disc, and it's definitely worth a look for those new to the film. Now if only I could get that stupid song out of my head.