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Film / Benny & Joon

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"A romance on the brink of reality."

A 1993 comedy-drama film directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik, in which a mentally ill young woman finds her love in an eccentric man who models himself after Buster Keaton.

Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson) is smart, creative and pretty — and severely schizophrenic. She lives together with her protective brother Benny (Aidan Quinn). When Joon "wins" the eccentric and possibly mentally disabled Sam (Johnny Depp) during a poker game, Benny reluctantly agrees to let Sam stay with them for a while.

Sam and Joon inevitably fall in love, and as they try to set up a life together, the darker side of Joon's schizophrenia comes to light. Still, Sam refuses to give up, despite Benny flat-out telling him that Joon would never be fit for an adult relationship.

This film contains the following tropes:

  • Brick Joke: When Benny and Joon are at the poker game, we see Sam spinning a hubcap around before throwing it in the air, and we don't see it come down. When Sam's cousin comes out, they have this exchange:
    Mike: What did you do to my hubcaps?!
    Sam: I... I don't know.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Sam.
  • Charlie Chaplin Shout-Out: Depp, a Chaplin enthusiast, stated that it took him several weeks to get the bread roll dance he performs in this movie (a shout-out to The Gold Rush) down perfectly, including all the little head movements and everything (Chaplin, being an almost obsessive perfectionist, would probably also have spent weeks getting the entire routine down perfectly).
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Sam and Joon.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Benny, to his sister Joon.
  • The Comically Serious: Sam, although whether this is his natural personality or merely part of his attempt to mimic Buster Keaton is unclear. Either way, he almost never smiles.
  • Female Gaze: One of the first shots we see of Sam is him bending over in tight pants to do a spinning plate trick, with a noticeable (though not gratuitous) close-up of his rear.
  • Funny Schizophrenia: Averted. At first it seems like Joon's mental handicap will be played for wackiness, but the film also shows the full extent of what having a personal relationship with someone like her would entail. Her breakdown on the bus while trying to run away with Sam is particularly tragic.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: In the So Bad, It's Good Movie Within a Movie.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Benny, shortly after meeting Sam for the first time.
  • Magical Realism: It is a relatively realistic world, but there are a couple of things that Sam does that defies explanation, that would be at home in a silent movie.
  • Manchild: Sam can definitely be this at times. On the one hand, it can be appealing, like when he’s doing tricks with his hat in the park. One the other, it can get him and others in big trouble, like when he thinks that it’s a good idea to run away with a stressed-out, schizophrenic woman just because her brother got mad at them.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Sam is a male example.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Joon's brother Benny is against Sam and Joon's relationship.
  • Name and Name
  • No Antagonist: The main conflict of the story is Joon’s schizophrenia. All the characters care about Joon and want what’s best for her, they just all go about it in different ways. Dr. Garner wants Joon to go to a group home, Benny thinks that he can handle her himself by just keeping her at home, and Sam and Joon try to leave on a bus, convinced that their love for each other is all that’s needed. None of these options work very well.
  • Oh, Crap!: Benny's expression when he sees Sam swinging by Joon's window, several stories up is priceless (it's at about the 1:20 mark).
  • Precision F-Strike: Benny throws one out to Sam as he throws him out after Sam and Joon reveal their relationship. Surprisingly, the film held on to a PG rating.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: A stage musical adaptation of the movie premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California from September 2 to October 22, 2017. The musical features music by Nolan Gasser, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, book by Kirsten Guenther, choreography by Scott Rink and direction by Jack Cummings III. The show runs at Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, New Jersey from April 4 to May 5, 2019. The Paper Mill production features Claybourne Elder as Benny, Hannah Elless as Joon and Bryce Pinkham as Sam.
  • Shout-Out: Johnny Depp's character, Sam, is a walking tribute to Buster Keaton. He also reenacts Charlie Chaplin's bread roll dance from The Gold Rush at one point.
  • Slice of Life
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: "For grilled cheese, I would have used the wool setting." "That's what I told him!" Though they are siblings, so this isn't too surprising.
  • The Stoic: Benny.
  • Unconventional Smoothie: Among other culinary innovations.