I defy you to find a sweeter movie than this one. Benny and Joon is a cult classic of sorts, its rather absurdist story and quotable dialogue make for a great movie that is neither over the top, nor lacking in frill. It is a simplistic film about romance, family, and making ends meet in a world that constantly challenges normalcy. Benny and Joon offers both a well paced narrative and subtly shot film that is as easy to watch as it is to enjoy. Employing popular music and classical cinema images, the film is a revisiting of slapstick of years gone by, as well as a complete rethinking of the romantic comedy tradition. It is a film that is both normal and unusual simultaneously, a rare thing in cinema, particularly after the 1960's.
Benny and Joon is rather unusual in its character choices. The title characters Benny (Aidan Quinn) and Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson) are siblings living in a suburban northeast town. Benny is a easy going mechanic whose only devotion is taking care of his mentally challenged sister Juniper "Joon." Sadly, Joon is proving to be more and more burdensome causing Benny to question her ability to remain in a normal social setting, as well as questioning his own sanity in taking care of Joon. Just as things appear to be impossible, one of Benny's friends pawns his cousin Sam (Johnny Depp) onto Benny. Fortunately for Benny, Sam is just as eccentric as Joon and proves to be her ideal companion. After a confrontation between Benny and Sam over Sam's intimacy with Joon the two separate, resulting in Joon's hospitalization. Benny and Sam through a joint effort rescue Joon from the hospital and in the closing scenes Sam and Joon are shown making grilled cheese together on a ironing board. I should note that this is a rather cursory overview of the film, but is in order to segway into my critical analysis of the film...being its textbook creation of a cult classic.
Benny and Joon is an exemplary film in relation to making a quotable and image driven cult film. Every element of the film is undeniably personal and has the heir of being part of an inside joke that the viewer has generously been invited to witness. This comes most obviously in the rhetoric between Benny and Joon, between Peanut Butter Super Chunk, betting drop chord in poker games and ping-pong it is very much a film about a familial relationship. Viewers may not partake in these specific rituals, but they certainly have their own eccentric habits with family that helps to relate. Secondly, the setting of the film helps to add to the cult-like nature of the film. Benny and Joon's house is obviously a residence beyond their means, given that they are both orphans. Regardless, their house is full of unusual artifacts more appropriate for a small town history museum and Joon's paintings, which are quite good and very modern. It is obviously a house of the director's personal favorites, as opposed to a believable place of residence for two struggling siblings. Finally, it is a cult film because William H. Macy has a role in the film, as arbitrary as it may seem he seems to show up in every damn cult movie I know and love and seeing him in this only added to its already unusual flare...mustache and all.
Benny and Joon is a perfect date movie. It is sweetly romantic and quotable. I would recommend viewing a copy with someone dear to you, because it will only increase its enjoyability.