Benny & Joon (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
April 13, 2011 by Dennis Amith
“Benny & Joon” is a romantic comedy that remains honest, fun and enjoyable after all these years. Johnny Depp’s performance as the Buster Keaton loving Sam is fantastic! If you have never watched this film before, definitely give this Blu-ray release a chance!
Images courtesy of © 1993 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Benny & Joon
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1993
DURATION: 98 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Widescreen (1:85:1), English 2.0 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono, French Dolby Surround
COMPANY: MGM/Twentieth Century Fox
RATED: PG (Theme, a Scene of Mild Sensuality and line use of Harsh Language)
RELEASE DATE: April 5, 2011
Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik
Story by Barry Berman and Lesley McNeil
Screenpay by Barry Berman
Produced by Susan Arnold, Donna Roth
Executive Producer: Bill Badalato
Associate Producer: Lesley McNeil
Music by Rachel Portman
Cinematography by John Schwartzman
Edited by Carol Littleton
Casting by Risa Bramon Garcia, Heidi Levitt
Production Design by Neil Spisak
Art Direction by Pat Tagliaferro
Set Decoration by Barbara Munch
Costume Design by Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Johnny Depp as Sam
Mary Stuart Masterson as Juniper “Joon” Pearl
Aidan Quinn as Benjamin “Benny” Pearl
Julianne Moore as Ruthie
Oliver Platt as Eric
CCH Pounder as Dr. Garvey
Dan Hedaya as Thomas
Joe Grifasi as mike
William H. Macy as Randy Burch
Liane Curtis as Claudia
Oscar Nominee Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson (TV’s Law & Order SVU) and Aidan Quinn (Practical Magic) star in this hilarious, quirk comedy. Wildly eccentric Joon (Masterson) can be very charming – especially when she takes her medicine. Long under the thumb of her overprotective brother, Benny (Quinn), Joon craves her independence. During an unusual poker game, Joon loses her hand – but wins Sam (Depp), a whimsical misfit who soon charms his way into her heart. Now if they can only find a romantic interest for her brother, love just might stand a chance in the charming, delightful film that also features Oliver Platt (“Frost/Nixon”) and Academy Award Nominee Julianne Moore.
In 1993, the romantic comedy “Benny & Joon” became a hit for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The film would showcase the physical comedy of Johnny Depp (fresh from his hit film “Edward Scissorhands”) and its theme song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles” by the Proclaimers.
And while there was a little backstage drama behind-the-scenes as Winona Ryder who just broke up with Depp was supposed to play “Joon” and Woody Harrelson was to play the role of “Benny”. The roles were re-cast and Aidan Quinn would be playing “Benny” and Mary Stuart Masterson as “Joon”.
The film would also feature talent who would eventually become popular stars years later with William H. Macy as Randy, Oliver Platt as Eric and Julianne Moore as Ruthie.
Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik (“Burn Notice”, “Gossip Girl”, “The Avengers”, “Chuck”) and a screenplay by Barry Berman (“Waterproof”, “The Adventures of Pinocchio”), “Benny & Joon” would earn $23 million and also earn Johnny Depp a Golden Globe Award nomination.
“Benny & Joon” revolves around a mechanic named Benjamin “Benny” Pearl (played by Aidan Quinn) who takes care of his mentally ill sister, Juniper “Joon” Pearl (played by Mary Stuart Masterson).
Joon is an intelligent young woman, an avid painter but unfortunately has problems handling her anger and also is used to a certain rhythm of daily routines. While Benny is busy at his auto shop and managing his workers, he has been dealing with various housekeepers who seem to quit their job as they are unable to deal with Joon’s outbursts.
Her doctor, Dr. Garvey (played by CCH Pounder) recommends that Benny put Joon in a group home because no housekeeper is willing to work there at his home and he is unable to manage her. And Benny doesn’t want to because he is all she has. We see a flashback of Benny and Joon when they were younger and they witnessed their parents being killed in a car accident and he has made sure that he has given his life and even his happiness to take care of his sister. But one day, her anger is taken out on Benny that he realizes, maybe the doctor is right, he can’t take care of her.
In fact, even his good friend Eric (played by Oliver Platt) sees how Benny has turned down women for dates because he’s stuck caring for sister and tries to convince him to put Joon in a group home. But Benny is not sure what he wants to do.
One night, as Benny & Joon visit a few friends for a night of gambling, his friend Mike (played by Joe Grifasi) has told him about a friend’s nephew who has moved in with him and he can’t stand him. The nephew is named Sam, a cinemaphile who is a big Buster Keaton fan (to the point that he dresses like the silent film actor and behaves like him) and we also learn that he is illiterate and is trying to learn how to read and write.
During another night of gambling, Joon wants to play and bet against Mike (without Benny being there) and Joon bets for whoever wins will paint her house and Mike bets that if he wins, she must take in his roommate Sam (played by Johnny Depp), that he can’t stand. Sure enough, Mike wins and now Benny & Joon must take in Sam.
Eventually Sam and Joon start to know each other. Despite an outburst from Joon one day, after Sam tries to clean the whole kitchen, he comes back by giving her a jack-in-a-box. Eventually, this surprises Joon as this guy is not bothered by her and if anything, he sees her as normal. She helps Sam with his writing and Sam cooks ham and cheese sandwiches for the family (via a clothes iron) and as odd as he may be, Benny can see how happy Joon is.
And needless to say, both Sam and Joon want to make Benny happy, so the two hook Benny and a woman named Ruthie (played by Julianne Moore) together. Ruthie is currently a waitress and apartment manager but also was a former actress that is recognized by Sam and the two become friends as Sam has recognized every dialogue from a slasher film she appeared in.
And while Benny and Susie become attracted to each other, Benny has a hard time dealing with his emotions as he doesn’t know how to get close to her because of his duties of caring for Joon. Meanwhile, Sam & Joon are becoming closer and closer and eventually they fall in love.
Now that Joon has found happiness, will Benny end her happiness by putting her in a group home?
“Benny & Joon” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1). As part of the catalog titles that are being released by MGM/20th Century Fox, I can say that this film does look better than its DVD counterpart but at the same time, does feature dust and speckles from time to time. For the most part, the film does look very good. The outdoor scenes are vibrant, the darker outdoor scenes or vignette type scenes have really good inky blacks.
And while colors are vibrant and there is good contrast for this film on Blu-ray, I do believe a lot of these catalog titles which include “Benny & Joon” are most likely sourced from an old HD master which was originally used for the DVD release. But it does look better than its DVD counterpart and that is a plus.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Benny & Joon” is presented in English 2.0 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono and French Dolby Surround. Dialogue is clear and understandable and the music, including the Proclaimers “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” comes clear through the front channels. But it’s a decent lossless soundtrack that is appropriate for this film.
Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish and French.
“Benny & Joon” comes with the following special features:
Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Jeremiah Chechik. Chechik talks about the timelessness of the film and not so much of the technical parts of the film. We learn how the photo of a young Aidan Quinn and Masterson was created, how the film was shot on location and more.
Deleted Scenes – (5:12) Featuring two deleted scenes: audition and mutilator.
- Costume, Make-Up Test and Stunt Reel – (18:45)Featuring various costume and make-up tests with the talent and a commentary track.
- Music Video – (3:40) Featuring the music video “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers.
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:01) Featuring the original theatrical trailer to “Benny & Joon”.
It has been nearly 20-years since I have watched “Benny & Joon”, a romantic comedy that was pretty cool for it’s time because it didn’t have the typical displays of banality of a romantic comedy. And the fact that you have a female character who is mentally ill and a young man who probably lived his life watching movies and literally transformed himself to be a hybrid Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin type of actor. And then you throw in the older brother who has not been able to live his life because he had to care for his younger sister.
“Benny & Joon” was a film that felt natural and when I first watched it, I found it intriguing, enjoyable and hilarious. I also credit the film for introducing me Buster Keaton and eventually making me become a silent film fan at a younger age. But “Benny & Joon” is a film that is timeless. Nearly 20-years-later and sure, the talents are much older but the film doesn’t look like it has aged. The storyline remains fun, relevant, enjoyable and I have not grown tired of it yet.
I felt that the younger Johnny Depp showed an amazing brilliance of what kind of actor he would later become in this film. The physical comedy and capturing that Keaton/Chaplin-esque style was fantastic and the same can be said with the brother and sister chemistry between Aidan Quinn and Mary Stuart Masterson.
As for the Blu-ray release, there is nothing new added to this Blu-ray release and as mentioned, I wouldn’t be surprised if the HD master was what was prepped for the DVD release. Fortunately, PQ is good and I didn’t find any artifacting and for the most part, if you loved the film on DVD, it’s worth upgrading to Blu-ray.
Overall, “Benny & Joon” is a romantic comedy that remains honest, fun and enjoyable after all these years.
While I enjoyed the film a lot back then and even now, I do wish the Blu-ray release had a better HD transfer and newer special features but if you really enjoyed “Benny & Joon” and have not owned it on DVD or LD prior, then definitely give this Blu-ray release a chance!
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