In Spokane, Washington, Juniper Pearl - Joon to those that know her - is an artist. She is also a mentally challenged young woman who requires around the clock care, as she could cause harm to herself or others. Her brother Benny Pearl, who owns and operates a garage and who is her only living relative since their parents died twelve years ago in a car accident, has made the decision that she would live at home with him, in the process sacrificing being able to have a personal life of his own. He has hired full-time housekeepers to provide that care when he isn't around. However, he has exhausted the list of housekeepers, who keep quitting because Joon is too much to handle. As such, Benny makes the decision that perhaps it would be best for all concerned if Joon were to live in a group home, something he is hesitating telling her for fear of her reaction. Into their lives comes Sam, the eccentric cousin of Benny's friend Mike, Sam who they obtained from Mike in a losing hand of poker... Written by
The exterior of the café where Ruthie works is the Milk Bottle Café in Spokane, Washington. The interior was shot in an entirely different restaurant, Ferguson's Café. The two restaurants are next door to each other. It's not the only building in Spokane shaped like a milk bottle. See more »
Joon's bangs change length on her forehead several times throughout the film. See more »
So we're planning our next vacation, right? I want Australia, she wants Italy. I like snorkeling, she likes garlic. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, she says to me: Do I need her? Jesus, Benny. What kind of a question is that? I mean, "need?" What does it really mean to need someone?
Benny, fuel line!
[and the phone begins ringing]
Hey Waldo, could you answer that phone?
I need a check, Benny. COD.
In a minute. Meet me in the office.
[...] See more »
BENNY & JOON seems, at its heart, to be an allegory about the different ways people can be out of touch with their fellow human beings, and the ways in which that dischord can be healed.
Benny owns an auto shop and takes care - both financially and physically - of himself and his sister Joon after the death of their parents. Other than weekly poker games, Benny's is a life of servitude, and this is the source of his isolation. He longs to be free to have other relationships, but is wracked by guilt at the idea of leaving Joon in anyone else's care.
Joon is an artist and is also mentally ill, a schizophrenic who has good and bad days and who depends on Benny to provide routine in her life. She has run out every housekeeper to be found in town, but cannot function without assistance and supervision. The film does a superb job of differentiating between mental illness (from which Joon clearly suffers) and stupidity (which is not a problem she faces).
Into their lives comes Sam, a cousin of one of Benny's poker buddies. Through a clever conceit, Sam moves in with Benny and Joon. Sam is undereducated, partially illiterate but a comedic genius who studies Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, knows catalogs of old movies, and has perfected the art form (kudos to Depp for the grace and conviction of this part of his performance). Like Keaton and the great silent film stars, Sam rarely speaks to communicate, and this combined with his illiteracy condemns him to be considered stupid as well. The great sneaker quality of Depp's performance is to show that Sam is always watching, always listening, and that he's no dim bulb by any stretch.
In Sam, Joon finds a person who makes her laugh, lives by his own rules, and cares for her deeply. In Joon, Sam finds a woman who appreciates him as he is, but he also knows a relationship with her is taboo. In a particularly revealing scene, he asks Benny, as one man to another, "How sick is she?" We know he is wrestling with his feelings for her, but Benny does not, and his offhanded answer comes across as callous and almost mocking.
While the handling of Sam and Joon's budding relationship may seem trite, and the humor applied to Joon's illness might seem cruel, in my experience the people who make those judgments know little about living day to day with a mentally ill - not to be confused with unintelligent - human being. There is deep and abiding truth in the idea that laughter and love can cure the incurable; people who seemed unable to function before can make great strides when they are shown trust and respect. And although the psychiatric issues were glossed over in this film, it has at its core an honest message of hope. One of my favorite films, for Depp and Masterson's outstanding performances and a true depiction of imperfect people on the journey to becoming whole. 9/10
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