Some may say, “I’m willing to go to the very depths of the deepest oceans” or “I’d cross the hottest desert for love”, but that’s not reality. Benny & Joon is one of those quirky 90’s movies that made this moviegoer question just what she would be willing to do for love.
It’s been 25 years since Benny & Joon was on the big screen and I was one of the lucky people who went to see it. I was 16 then, I’m 41 now and every time I hear The Proclaimers “I Would Walk 500 Miles” I get goose bumps and am transported to my past.
How far would you go for the one you love, the most important person in your life? What would you be willing to do FOR LOVE? What are you willing to let go of to keep that love? If you were Benny Pearl and it came to your sister Joon you’d walk 500 miles and 500 more. You’d put her first in everything leaving nothing for yourself. But when the play for keeps poker game that Joon sits in on goes bust – The Pearl siblings gain a cousin.
Benjamin Pearl is a good hearted mechanic shop owner / operator who is trying to take care of his sister who has episodes of anger and aggressiveness toward her in-home assistants, has a tendency to wander away from home and unintentionally cause panic and chaos around her in Spokane, WA. Joon is an artist, painting mainly.
Because of Joon, Benny has no life outside of 3 close friends (with whom he plays for keeps poker every week), his job and being full time caretaker of his mentally ill sister. If for some reason you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know what for keeps poker is, it entails the players writing items they own onto slips of paper and using those instead of money to bet with. Poorman Poker.
Benny and Joon are at a crossroads. Joon ran her last caretaker off after an episode and Benny is forced to take her along to a poker night where she spends the evening sniping away. This is Benny’s haven and time to leave the caretaker side at home and just be a guy. He asks her Dr to send out another caretaker but instead he is given literature on a group home where Joon could move. She has progressed to the point where more closely monitored care is necessary, but Benny isn’t able to let go and says something to the affect of “ We’ve been doing just fine the last 12 years she just needs someone else” but he’s informed there isn’t anyone else and to consider placement options.
I can sympathize with Benny and the responsibility he feels towards his sister. Telling people, even yourself that putting a loved one into a Group, Nursing or Psychiatric Home is wrong and that you can take care of your loved one better than some stranger. There is a fair amount of guilt and the nagging feeling that you have betrayed their trust every time you say “I’m doing this for your benefit and well being”. I realize this is a bit deep but it is how I felt when I had to put my own father into a nursing home for his benefit. In his case it was another suicide attempt, he was a threat to himself, and possibly others, yet that little voice was there.
Benny keeps the brochure, but out of Joon’s sight, she would have a terrible episode is she knew her brother was even considering putting her somewhere else other than their home. So their lives continue as usual, for them, until Joon accompanies Benny to his next poker game. While Benny is outside bearing his soul and feelings to his best friend, the other 2 guys are inside and itching to play, when they here Joon offer, “I’ve been known to play a little poker”….After that, they write out they’re antes/bets and start 5 card stud. Up to this point in the movie we’ve only seen Sam (Depp) twice, and only in passing glances, once as the movie opens and he’s on a train with a Buster Keaton book and again when the siblings came to the game the week before, he was a tree then.
As the poker game goes on the bets get wilder. Things from retiling and grouting her shower, shampooing his dog, then she ups the ante with scrape and repaint her house, she calls it a see ya and a raise. So Mike, the guy who NEVER wins, goes one better “take my cousin (Sam) off my hands. It’s about this time where Benny walks in the house to see Joon laying her cards down. She has a heart flush, a very respectable hand. But Mike has a full house 666AA. He’s overjoyed at the fact that he’s pawned Sam off on someone else.
He’s kinda the jerk of the group anyways so Benny gives him a tongue lashing over taking advantage of his sick sister. There is a great scene right in the middle of all this where we get to see Sam playing with an old hubcap, and eventually he’s banging out a tune on the chimes, it’s really kinda cute. Joon definitely takes notice. Benny relents and takes Sam home with them and puts him up in Joon’s art studio couch.
Benny doesn’t trust this outcast any farther than he could throw him, but they all go to dinner to a local diner. Sam gets two buns, sticks forks in each one and does a little dance with them, and this oddity happening doesn’t feel forced. It’s just how Sam is. Sam and Joon have this instant connection that can be felt through the screen and it is just so natural. Masterson and Depp have both played outcasts before and since and they are both at the top of they’re game in Hollywood at this point in they’re careers.
While at the diner we’re introduced to Ruthie Mallenk, she’s a waitress that Sam recognizes as a B-horror movie actress and reenacts her death scene in front of everyone. It’s hilarious!! Benny is smitten with Ruthie immediately but holds back because of Joon.
Being mentally ill, Joon goes about her normal routine, mostly ignoring Sam at first. He cleans the house in an oddball way to loud music and it freaks Joon out. So, she kicks him out. Doesn’t last long, I mean really, who could resist a young Johnny Depp? When Sam is back in the house and settled Benny gets Joon to bed. They share a tender sibling moment and we get a small glance into their past: two cars wrecked and smoking, 2 adult bodies on gurneys being covered. And a younger Benjamin and Juniper Pearl watching from the side as their parents are carted off.
Sam has been in everyone’s lives for less than a week and already he’s a friend and sorta secret boyfriend to Joon. And because of his incredible love of movies he has brought Benny and Ruthie together over dinner and a screening of the one movie she was in. Benny really has feelings for Ruthie but is hesitant to begin anything as he says in the movie when they’re kissing goodnight “my life’s just really complicated right now”. He doesn’t realize he’s just put things that were going good to sour. He’s a guy, and distracted.
Soon after Joon, Sam and Benny are in the park having a picnic and Benny is brooding. So Sam starts popping his hat off each of them. He tries it on Benny and he knocks it away. Sam just gets up and goes after it, and starts a routine that I cannot even begin to explain. It is cute, endearing and hilarious, it has to be watched to be understood for what it is. Benny watches with the quickly forming crowd and finally can see something in Sam. He sends Joon and Sam home alone, while he stays behind to think about everything that’s happened over the last several days.
That evening Sam and Joon make love and it is gentle and kind as they give themselves to one another. Their obvious gentle kisses and tentative touches along each others face are so intimate that the first time I saw this movie I felt I was looking in on an act of love between two people who were very much in love, it was later in life when I learned that your first time is not like the movies.
With Benny all hyped up and wanting to make decisions for Sam, Joon speaks up and has Sam tell her brother that they’ve “been together”. Benny kicks Sam out and finally has it out with Joon about the group home to which she has a full meltdown. Benny leaves for an errand and that’s when Joon sneaks out with Sam to runaway together. The plan was to take the bus and get out of town. She gets on fine, but soon starts exhibiting signs of talking to no one and banging on the seat in front of her. The normal sounds of the bus throw her into a full on breakdown.
The way Masterson literally throws herself into this physical part of her role was quite outstanding. She has to act crazy and psychotic while pacing back and forth inside an empty bus, and then be picked up by 3 large men and she also kicks out a window. At my age, I had only heard about psychotic episodes from my mother who was a nurse at the time, I hadn’t witnessed it before. So this actually scared me at the theatre.
Joon is taken to the psychiatric wing of the hospital and shuts everyone out. Benny has come to terms that he can no longer shield his sister from the world and has to break into the locked wing. He goes to Sam and asks for his help and they come up with a plan on the fly, Sam uses himself as bait to get the ward attendants off the hall Joon is on so Benny can get to and talk to her.
He offers to let her live in an apartment that Ruthie owns and let her live her own life if that’s what she wants. But she thinks he’s lying to her, again, and its not until she sees Sam swinging outside her window that she lights up and chooses to go for it. My favorite part has to be the final scene where Sam and Joon are in their own apartment, and he’s teaching her to make grilled cheese, with a clothes iron.
Benny and Joon was originally released to theaters on April 16, 1993
Cast: Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, Aidan Quinn, Julianne Moore, Oliver Platt
Benny and Joon Official Synopsis
Benny (Aidan Quinn), who cares for his mentally disturbed sister, Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), also welcomes the eccentric Sam (Johnny Depp) into his home at Joon’s request. Sam entertains Joon while he dreams of a job at the video store. Once Benny realizes Joon and Sam have started a relationship, he kicks Sam out of the house. This leads to an altercation between brother and sister. Joon runs away with Sam, who soon realizes that she may need more support than he alone can provide.
Categories: Movie Anniversaries