There are those films over which I will never argue. They aren't necessarily brilliant films, but neither are they films that I deem unworthy of argument. They are simply good films for which I feel a strong affection. They are often personal in nature, and they offer me a personal connection, a way of dealing with life, a way of processing my own experiences and a way of gaining new insights, thoughts and ideas.
"Benny & Joon" is such a film.
I am aware that "Benny & Joon" is not, in the truest sense, a brilliant film. It is easy to watch the film and pick apart the lackings of the script, the inconsistent performances, and, ultimately, the lack of cohesiveness. Yet, all of these things are irrelevant to me. "Benny & Joon" is a film that, ten years later, continues to make me smile. The moment I see Benny (Johnny Depp) bounce onto the screen in his black hat my heart opens, my smile widens and I become engrossed all over again. Depp has long been able to immerse himself in the quirkiest of characters, and the role of Benny is one of his quirkiest appearances on film. It would have been an easy task to transform Benny into a stereotype, a caricature. Yet, Depp deeply humanizes Benny by ignoring the eccentricities, the potential mental illness, the obviously wounded child and presenting him as authentically real and loving and funny and dramatic. It is a nearly impossible balance, but it is a balance that Depp achieves time and again throughout the film.
The same is true of Mary Stuart Masterson in what is, most likely, her best role. Masterson, while working consistently, has never gone beyond her droll, domesticated role with the exception of her performance here. While it doesn't have the richness of Depp's, it is actually a perfect counterpoint to the lunatic heights offered by Depp.
As the "normal" and protective brother, Aidan Quinn offers a serviceable but clearly outshined performance. Screenwriter Barry Berman clearly focused on the two lead characters, often to the detriment of the supporting players. Quinn, along with an early performance from Julianne Moore, could have stretched their performances to much greater depths given better material to work with...however, they remained integral and interesting.
This was director Jeremiah Chechik's second film, after the Christmas Vacation film. While it is frustratingly paced at times, Chechik was able to contain Depp's occasionally frantic energy which allowed a nice balance with Masterson's more subdued presentation and Quinn's more authoritarian figure.
The film is blessed with a wonderful use of color and cinematography, stellar costume design and simple, but effective, set design. In its tagline, it reads "A Romance on the Brink of Reality." From a critical perspective, "Benny & Joon" is a good film on the brink of brilliance.