Benny & Joon (Blu-ray)
Directed by Jeremiah Chechik
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 98 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Review Date: April 13, 2011
Movie dramas that focus on mentally unbalanced people and pretend they're only lovable and slightly eccentric characters can sometimes cheapen and demean the tragedy of mental illness. It's to its credit that Jeremiah Chechik’s Benny & Joon is a personable enough movie that its lapses and weaknesses don’t damage its ultimate sweetness and charm. There are aspects about its story and characters that are oh-so-familiar, but it’s in the main an enjoyable and sometimes unique little entertainment.
Barry Berman's screenplay presents us with a charming set of characters, all fairly predictable but ever so engaging and unthreatening. Benny (Aidan Quinn) is a garage mechanic, socially limited and inexperienced because he's spent his life looking after and worrying about his schizophrenic sister Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson). Joon is a talented painter (why hasn't anything been done with her talent? Benny jumps quickly enough to get an oddball performance artist an agent to represent him, but the fact that no one investigates whether her paintings could help her earn a living seems odd), but somehow she is never able to rise above her demons, whatever they may be. Screenwriter Berman throughout his screenplay doesn't flesh out the characters' backgrounds well enough, and we’re often left with too many unanswered questions.
Into Benny and Joon's life comes the quirky Sam (Johnny Depp), won literally in a poker game. Sam occupies his own world as surely as Joon does without the hint of potential danger that seems evident under Joon's facade of gentleness. He's constantly doing shtick immortalized by Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton and is one of the movie's more genuinely endearing creations. With Sam around to baby sit Joon, Benny begins dating sweet and shy Ruthie (Julianne Moore), a one-time actress. Of course, the obvious happens. The eccentricities of Joon and Sam mesh beautifully into a love affair which, when revealed to Benny, causes him to throw Sam out and lash out at Joon threatening her with the institution her doctor (C.C.H. Pounder) has been advocating throughout the entire movie. All the predictable resolutions occur just as one would expect, saved only by the actors' sensitivity and overriding charisma and the director’s simple but disarming staging.
Aidan Quinn goes through the most identifiable emotions as Benny, and though writer Berman doesn't explore Benny's insecurities nearly enough (in his own way, he's as socially crippled as Joon), Quinn makes the role a believable human being. Mary Stuart Masterson's role as Joon is rather cryptically written: the demons that possess her aren't explored, and we're never sure just how unbalanced she is. Perhaps that's why Benny's explosive reaction to the knowledge of her affair with Sam seems like overreaction to us (either that or it’s a manipulative and artificial narrative trick by the screenwriter). Still, Masterson does her usual a convincing job. Johnny Depp as Sam once again plays a character on the far reaches of oddity. He goes through his Chaplin and Keaton paces with wonderful grace and élan and is altogether appealing.
The supporting cast makes sizable contributions to the charm of the piece. Julianne Moore doesn't get enough scenes as Ruthie, and the part hasn’t been fleshed out enough, but she's very good. Oliver Platt, Dan Hedaya, and Joe Grifasi make nice impressions as Benny's poker playing buddies, but C.C.H. Pounder as Joon's anxious psychiatrist is somewhat grating and should have been softened, especially since she offers us no information on Joon's basic illness.
Director Jeremiah Chechik does a miserable job of framing one of Depp's Chaplin routines, the famous "Dance of the Dinner Rolls" from The Gold Rush (he even cuts in the middle of it to another angle losing all sense of rhythm), but otherwise he captures the appeal of the characters quite nicely without ever pushing for his effects. A late music video seemingly tacked into the film after Benny has his explosive confrontation with Joon seems out of place and jars the sensitive mood of the story. At 98 minutes, it doesn't slow things down but could just have easily been cut.
The movie’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The director of photography has applied filters throughout the film but has done it inconsistently. Thus there are shots with a kind of haze hanging over them and others that are perfectly clear within the same scene. Sharpness is better than fine, and color is solid. Flesh tones look accurate and appealing. Black levels are acceptable but not optimum. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound mix seems a bit low in volume. There is noticeable stereo separation in the mix with the very effective music of Rachel Portman and some pop tunes resonating delightfully through the soundstage. Dialogue is well recorded and always clear on the soundtrack.
Director Jeremiah Chechik contributes a rather uneventful and by-the-numbers audio commentary spending too much time describing events on the screen and motivations behind characters’ actions.
Unless otherwise noted, the featurettes are in 480i.
There are two deleted scenes which can be viewed individually or in one 5 ¼-minute grouping. Jeremiah Chechik contributes commentary explaining why the scenes were cut or altered.
There is an 18 ¾-minute reel of costume and make-up tests, camera tests, and stunt practice (including Depp doing multiple rehearsals of the “dinner roll” moment).
The music video for “I’m Gonna Be” is performed by the Proclaimers and runs for 3 ¾ minutes.
The theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p and runs 2 minutes.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Jeremiah Chechik’s Benny & Joon is a quirky comedy-drama with very appealing performances and a story that’s engaging at least for two-thirds of the film’s running time. Some bonus features have been ported over from the laserdisc giving fans some added value for the Blu-ray release.