One of the most popular and endearing films produced in the 1990's is undeniably Benny & Joon. Director Jeremiah Chechik and Screenwriter Barry Berman (who crafted the superb story with Leslie McNeil) brought a sense of genuine emotion to this unique and bizarre story of unconditional love. This is a wonderful and inventive romantic comedy sure to delight with it's remarkable direction, sublime writing, complimentary cinematography, impressive costumes, and memorable music. This is a film that actually manages to be that satisfying.
Benny (Aidan Quinn) is a down on his luck mechanic who helps looks after his sister Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), who is mentally ill. Benny might not be helping Joon as effectively as he thinks he actually is though. As it turns out, Joon longs for some more independence from her brother and is both sweet and charming when she is not facing the difficulties of her illness. A misunderstood, film-loving, Chaplin and Keaton impersonating, high spirited young guy by the name of Sam (Johnny Depp) soon enters their lives when his livelihood (for a couple of days) is placed in a Poker game bet that Benny loses. Rather begrudgingly, Benny agrees to let him into their home and it isn't long before a connection between Sam and Joon begins to develop. The story primarily focuses on the relationships between these three characters and how the involvement of the strange newcomer Sam affects both Joon and Benny's lives.
The element that is immediately going to encourage an individual's attention is the superb performances found from the entire cast. Aidan Quinn brings a sense of brotherly love that is clearly affectionate and believable; yet it is also quite obvious, through this performance, that Benny is also struggling through a lot of his own personal issues. Quinn helps make the character inherently likeable, sympathetic, but also flawed. This has as much to do with his careful nuance as an actor as it is a credit to the strong screenplay. Mary Stuart Masterson is charming and delightful as Joon. It is easy to care about her character and to see exactly why her brother Benny is so determined to help her. The standout performance, of course, belongs to the young Johnny Depp. This was one of his greatest early roles and it manages to be one of my favorite performances of the actor even today. His comedic sensibilities and physical timing is on great display with this film and it is utterly impossible to not recognize the dynamic acting force he brought to the role. Many scenes have little to no dialogue for the Sam character and yet we see the Depp develop the role through careful mannerisms that add even more credibility to the part. Substantial supporting character performances are also given by some truly wonderful actors such as Julianne Moore, Oliver Platt, and William H. Macy.
The screenplay and direction manage to bring tenderness to the film that could have easily been overlooked by less gifted filmmakers. The story somehow manages to seem entirely believable even when there are elements to the plot that may feel reminiscent of classic fairy tales. This is a film that understands how to focus on the relationships between the characters. Benny & Joon is ultimately about finding love, recognizing friendships, and the remarkable importance of family. These are positive themes for a positive film that never panders to audiences who might expect for these elements to be treated with simplicity.
This may actually be one of my all time favorite films. It seems as though every time I sit down to watch Benny & Joon again, I find that it is another freshly rewarding experiencing for me. Each viewing of the film pushes my love of the story, performances, and direction farther along. This is definitely a film with great replay value. I could put it on whenever I feel down about something and it would manage to make me feel as though everything will work out in the end (plastering a smile on my face during the process). It is a testament to the film's long-lasting success and the love it has achieved in movie-buff hearts everywhere.
Benny & Joon is presented on Blu-ray with an impressive 36 MBPS AVC encoded transfer that preserves the original theatrical exhibition ratio of 1:85:1 on a 50 GB Dual Layer disc. The video presentation for Benny & Joon might not be perfect as there is a sense of some inherent softness to the image, but it is also sharper and more beautiful on Blu-ray than it ever was on the DVD format. The transfer is almost entirely clear of any print damage, dirt, or other annoying print ailments and instead offers a clean and pleasing image that seems to faithfully reproduce the film's beautiful photography. No annoying issues with DNR are present either - making this a solid upgrade all around.
The audio receives a nice upgrade with a pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio lossless track in 2.0 English. While a surround sound mix would have been an enjoyable inclusion this track is one of the better 2.0 tracks I have heard on Blu-ray. The audio is well defined and with strong clarity throughout. The dynamics of mixing the score, dialogue, and other sound effects is appropriately balanced. There is a definite notable upgrade in this lossless mix. This release also includes French Dolby Surround, and Spanish Mono tracks. Subtitles are included in Spanish, French, and English for the deaf and hard of hearing.
supplemental material featured on this Blu-ray release match earlier
on DVD and (gasp!) laserdisc.
Look on the bright side: the included
supplemental features may not be new but they are all certainly
worth a spin (or listen). A feature-length commentary
track is included by director Jeremiah Chechik. It's an informative
commentary that mostly seems to reveal details on how he approached
scenes and also how he worked with the actors. It feels like a personal
somewhat down to earth recording, and yet manages to focus on a number
technical elements. The pacing is slow; presumably a result of Chechik
formulating his thoughts, but it's an enjoyable listen. Two short deleted scenes are also included -- one
of which focuses on the "movie within the movie" found in Benny &
a few minutes of that silly horror flick). The second deleted scene is
(Depp) having his audition that was mentioned but never shown in the
These deleted moments also contain commentary from the director (which
only viewable option - the commentary is included on the lone audio
best extra might be an included Costume,
Make-Up Test and Stunt Reel that is accompanied by commentary by
director of photography John Schwartzman. This extra provided insights
the film was made from the photographer's viewpoint and it was an
engaging, informative, and entertaining extra and should be essential
for fans of the film. Rounding out extras on this release is a Music Video for "I'm Gonna Be (500
Miles)" by The Proclaimers. It's a great one-hit-wonder song that was
effectively used in the film in a way that is truly memorable and will
viewers smiling. The music video itself has a dated 80's vibe to it
though the video was made in the 90's). Lastly, the original theatrical
for the film itself is included.
Benny & Joon is best described as one of the most memorable and charming romantic comedies made in the 1990's. The film radiates romance in a groove that feels genuine and heartfelt. The performances are also stellar. The script and direction even prove to be richly rewarding. The Blu-ray features some nice supplements and a strong upgrade in the PQ/AQ. Consider adding this wonderful treasure to your film collection. Highly Recommended.