The Intestinal Fortitude News Feed

BENNY & JOON: TRUE LOVE TAPIOCA, A ROMANCE ON THE BRINK OF REALITY By RICK BALDWIN

“…in the sun, the rain, the snow, love is lovely–let it grow.” –Eric Clapton

The act of being eccentric is at times a double edged sword.  It does warrant a license to be creative, live outside the status quo with a sense of courage…if you have a tough skin.  The media, certain authorities, and some mundane philosophies encourage one to assimilate, drink the Kool-Aid, and rid yourself of the one of a kind light shining from your soul. Being unique, true to yourself, and benefitting your fellow man with your rare perspective on life, then you are a success in my eyes.  The characters in today’s feature Benny & Joon (1993) live in a world of eccentricity.

Benny, Aidan Quinn of Elementary (2012), lives with his mentally ill (schizophrenia and post traumatic disorder riddled) sister Joon, Mary Stuart Masterson of Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), following the death of their parents in a car accident.  One night, Joon, Benny with Mike, Joe Grifasi of The Deer Hunter (1978), are deep in jest and betting in a game of friendly poker.  Mike, desperate to rid his house of his eccentric, Buster Keatonesque cousin, Sam, Johnny Depp of Blow (2001), wagers a bet and wins committing Sam to live with Benny and Joon temporarily.  Benny is at first angered for having one more person to be responsible for in his household, but soon changes his tune after coming home and found to find Sam has cleaned the house.  Benny decides Sam should be housesitting with Joon while she paints, due to other hired hands leaving the job due to Joon’s unpredictable, violent outbursts and frees Benny of making the tough decision to institutionalize her.

Over a brief time, Joon and Sam form a close relationship as she tries to help him with his illiteracy, appreciate each other’s quirks, and have deep meaningful conversations while at the local diner about the sad and twisted life of raisins.  Ruthie, Julianne Moore of Boogie Nights (1997), is a waitress at the diner and is truly the only advocate that Sam and Joon are perfect for each other though they are outsiders in the world they shuffle through.  Joon invites Ruthie to dinner and begins to fall for the caring, but conflicted Benny. Benny and Ruthie begin to see each other, but the spark is quickly extinguished when Benny cannot release himself from his responsibilities to caring for his ill sister.  As time passes, Benny realizes that Sam truly is a special character and ultimately a positive influence in Joon’s and Benny’s life.

Benny & Joon is a romantic comedy directed by Jeremiah Chechik of  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), and screenplay by Barry Berman of The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996).  Critically blasted by studios execs in preproduction, Benny would go on to become a sleeper success and has gained a small cult following over the years since its release this week 22 years ago.  The soundtrack in Benny & Joon is different within itself as it offers tracks by Temple of the Dog (the film was shot in Washington at the height of the Grunge), Joe Cocker, and countless ditties of classic music used for silent movies.  The soundtrack became popular by The Proclaimers’ pop catchy, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)–you know the song and have probably sung it at least once to yourself.

Benny & Joon is a funny, thoughtful film that examines the strength of individual eccentricities, unconditional love, coping with the past, mental illness, and the anxiety brought on by change and separation.  By today’s standards, this comedy is somewhat tame, but a delight nonetheless and is not too heavy, but playful like a child even when dealing with Joon’s illness and Benny’s personal struggles.  Depp, as usual, is magical to watch as he is a gentle character that has naivety and wonder in his eyes as he internalizes the magic of silent film stars.  Employing physical comedy from the Hollywood yesteryear, Depp gives nods to Harold Lloyd’s Hey There (1918), Girl Shy (1924), and Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925).  Original casting had such stars as Tom Hanks of Forrest Gump (1994), Julia Roberts of Pretty Woman (1990), Tim Robbins of The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Susan Sarandon of The Lovely Bones (2009), Woody Harrelson of True Detective (2014), and Laura Dern of Blue Velvet (1986) in mind.  I am truly glad those chosen cast for the production is the way it is, as I feel some of the quirkiness and charm would not have shined through as it did.

So, keep exploring the wonderful gift you have been given…life.  Why explore it like everybody else?  Stay true to yourself and your voice.  If people don’t understand you, it’s their loss.  The people truly important in your life will accept you no matter what, and come to appreciate your quirks. Poet Edith Sitwell said it best; “I am not eccentric. It’s just that I am more alive than most people. I am an unpopular electric eel set in a pond of catfish.”

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