Benny and Joon:
Whimsical, charming, bizarre, and loveable are probably the best words that could be used to describe Benny & Joon. It may be a romantic comedy but this film actually has quite a lot of depth and dramatic moments to it. Granted it may not be a tear jerker by any stretch of the imagination, but there are more than few moments of high tension and emotion.
Benny Pearl (Aidan Quinn) is a down on his luck car mechanic who spends his life taking care of his younger sister Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson). He often puts her needs above his own and uses her mental illness as an excuse for why he's holding back his own life. Then again, it's not like Joon is all that easy to take care of. She hears voices in her head, acts out violently, and even uses scuba gear and a ping pong paddle to direct traffic. It's safe to say that he has a full plate, but that's nothing compared to what happens when Sam (Johnny Depp) shows up. Sam is one of Benny's friend's cousins and when Joon loses a card game he winds up going to live with them.
It's hard to tell at first whether or not the Pearl's new roommate is mentally ill as well, but we soon learn that he's actually just eccentric and illiterate. Because he can't read or write he has spent all of his life watching old movies and does his best to impersonate Buster Keaton. The film gains certain energy thanks to Depp's brilliant performance and he really becomes the saving grace for this picture. For a role that doesn't have a lot of dialogue Sam is easily the best and most loveable character in this whole movie.
I'm not going to spoil anything for you but I will let you know that Sam and Joon fall for each other. Heck you could have read the DVD's package to find that out. It was painfully predictable that this was going to happen from the very first eye contact that the two characters had. Benny also goes on a quest to find love (not with Sam) and eventually finds a girl worth chasing. Of course he has to let go of Joon and get on with his own life in order to do so. This is something that he has needed to do for the past twelve years so it's not going to be particularly easy.
Benny & Joon was a touching story that came across as sincere and loving. It may be very predictable at times but the characters and story are charming enough to keep you interested. The tone of the film may be a little more serious than your normal romantic comedy, but if you haven't seen this movie you are definitely missing out on one of Depp's best performances and one of the most memorably pictures from the 90s.
The Man in the Moon:
Accompanying Benny & Joon in this collection is Reese Witherspoon's debut film, The Man in the Moon. Sheepishly, I have to admit that up until now I had never seen nor heard of this movie, but have been a big fan of Witherspoon's acting since I first saw her in Pleasantville back in 1998. For being only 14 (or was it 15?) at the time that The Man in the Moon was made, she belts out a phenomenal performance; and I'm talking out of the park good.
This inspiring and tragic tale takes place during the 1950s in Louisiana out in the middle of farm country. While the movie focuses mainly on 14 year old Danielle 'Dani' Trant (Witherspoon), the story is as much about her as it is her older sister and their family. You see, Dani is at that particular age where she's still kind of a tomboy but growing into womanhood. She seems to have a good bead on her emotions and her love for Elvis until Court Foster (Jason London) moves in next door.
Nearly instantly you can sense chemistry between the two and even though he's a few years older the two seem awkwardly drawn to each other. What starts as a friendly rendezvous at a swimming hole turns into the stealing of a first kiss and what's commonly known as "puppy love". The innocence of youthful love plays on the forefront of the film but that innocence turns to jealousy once Dani's older sister Maureen (Emily Warfield) sets her eyes on Court.
Maureen happens to be a few years older than Dani, gorgeous, and recently single, so you can tell right from the outset that there's going to be trouble. A rift forms between the two and when tragedy strikes it grows even bigger. Watching the two sisters come to terms with these events says a lot about the bond of family and the maturing of a child. In many ways the behavior of the teenagers in this movie reflects reality. These particular years are all about learning who you are as well as making mistakes to grow from and this is a movie that gets that.
There were several points during The Man in the Moon where the script could have fallen apart very easily, but fortunately that never happened. A lot of real emotion resides here and the characters are developed to a point that other movies only wish that they could achieve. I've never really appreciated the whole "young love story" thing but I can honestly say that this one dragged me in. I found myself caring about these characters and what happened to them. That's not something that I can say about a lot of films. The Man in the Moon hits every note perfectly from start to finish.
Benny & Joon and The Man in the Moon are both presented with 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratios. In Benny & Joon the image quality is fair with some fine grain, speckle, and edge enhancement in many spots. The colors and lighting appeared natural and even though the picture was acceptable for a film from 1993 it didn't blow me away. The Man in the Moon carries the same types of print flaws along with its transfer to a slightly more noticeable degree. Neither of these prints is bad by any stretch but they aren't exactly much to write home about.
Both of these movies also receive the same treatment as far as audio is concerned. English, French, and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo tracks are present, but there is nothing as far as a 5.1 mix available. There is a fair amount of directionality to the sound for both films, but for the most part since they are talky, dialogue driven movies. That means that you shouldn't expect too much, though Benny & Joon makes great use of some music to set the mood. I noticed that for both of these transfers that the sound was significantly lower than most other DVDs. I had to really turn the volume up (practically twice as much) in order to hear these films. They also feature French and Spanish subtitles though strangely enough there are no English ones present.
The Man in the Moon's only feature is a theatrical trailer that is accessed from the main menu, while Benny & Joon offers much more. First of all the disc offers the movie's trailer as well as a music video for "I'm gonna be (500 miles)" by the Proclaimers. Yeah, yeah, I know, but what do you want? This was the early 90s after all!
The most interesting feature on the disc is a little feature called Costume, Make-Up Test and Stunt Reel which is narrated by John Schwartzman, the cinematographer. This starts out as a filter test reel where different things were experimented with when trying to figure out the look of the film then works its way to some stunt practice. The narration was easily the best part of this because of the wealth of technical production information that's available. Sometimes it gets a little boring because the actors just sit there but there are a few funny bits thanks to Quinn and Depp.
There are also two deleted scenes included on the disc which didn't really fit into the final cut. The first one features Benny trying to get Sam to audition for his physical comedy stuff and the second is an extended clip from the cheesy horror movie the characters watch during the film. These both feature a narration over the material. A solo commentary is also included with Director Jeremiah S. Chechik. It's informational in terms of the process of making the film and what brought them to some decisions, but really comes across as dry with just the one commentator.
Benny & Joon and The Man in the Moon are two films from the 90s that are completely different, yet equally entertaining. One is amusing, charming and touching, while the other is inspirational and heartbreaking. For under $20 you can't go wrong by picking up this two-pack, especially since they feature Depp and Witherspoon in some of their earlier roles. Highly Recommended
Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!