Thirty years ago today, Benny & Joon was released. It’s a sweet and offbeat romantic dramedy that really showed all four of its stars – Mary Stuart Masterson, Julianne Moore, Aidan Quinn, and especially Johnny Depp – to great – and in some cases, career-boosting – effect:
Benny & Joon is directed by Jeremiah Chechik, previously (and still) best known for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Masterson and Quinn are the titular brother and sister, a blue-collar pair living in Spokane, Washington. He’s a mechanic shop owner whose life is largely consumed by taking care of Joon, who is mentally ill (presumably schizophrenia, though not specified as such). When Sam (Depp), a reserved, Buster Keaton-inspired man enters the fray, the dynamic between the three of them shifts significantly. (Moore is a B-movie actress turned waitress who provides an ear for Benny.)
The film was a major step in Depp’s reinvention as a serious, interesting actor, especially since so much of this performance is a quiet (yes, silent) one. It’s also hard now to remember what a major figure Masterson was in the early ‘90s (Bad Girls, Fried Green Tomatoes), but she is wonderful here. Watching her I was reminded of what a pure onscreen presence she always had. Films are worse off for not having used Masterson more consistently for the last twenty-five years.
Perhaps the film’s most significant achievement is sending The Proclaimers’ hit “I Would Walk (500 Miles)” into the world. Don’t pretend you still don’t know it.
Offbeat and wonderful, Benny & Joon is a movie well worth remembering. Find it wherever you can, and check it out!