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Mental Illness: Major Films  
TitleBenny and Joon (1993)
Alternative/Original Title
DisabilityMental
CountryUSA
Length98
GenreDrama Romance
Rating4
DirectorJeremiah Chechik
CastJohnny Depp Mary Stuart Masterson Aidan Quinn Julianne Moore Oliver Platt C.C.H. Pounder
NotesIf you like a romance, if you like good acting and if you can accept a certain detachment from reality you should enjoy this film. The story is no more removed from reality than a classic 40s romantic comedy but it is trying to say something about a young woman who has a mental condition. To my recollection the word 'schizophrenic' is never mentioned in the film though most reviews refer to that as her condition. Forget the label, look at Mary Stuart Masterson's portrayal of someone who is disturbed, not all the time just some of the time. A portrayal subtle enough that you're never sure what to expect of her, what are her feelings to another person, even whether or not she is capable of romantic love. Her condition is focused, firstly by her brother Benny (Aidan Quinn) who plays a normal guy with normal desires which are basically messed up by his caring for and devotion to his sister. This looks the easy part to play yet is perhaps the most difficult. He's not so selfish as Cher in 'Masked' but he is torn between the abnormal life at home and the normal life he seeks outside. Hence we might compare his schizoid condition with his sister's. Then along comes Sam (Johnny Depp) like a visitor from another planet. His behaviour and a self-absorption as intense as Joon's sets up the assertion that two outsiders might have something in common. We are rooting for this but with neither Sam nor Joon can we be certain of what is possible between them. We are continually kept off balance so that while we wish them well we also empathise with the apprehension of her brother Benny. Depp's performance is superb, so good that like all great performances we couldn't imagine anyone else in the part. His character is generally referred to as eccentric, goofy, freakish, whimsical . . . He is not mentally disturbed by any medical terminology. We are consequently drawn to consider what is the defining nature of Joon's mental condition because some of her behaviour could also be thought whimsical (e.g..... the weird drink she makes in the blender). We might also recall that the film is called 'Benny and Joon', not 'Sam and Joon'. The director is focusing on both Benny and Joon finding romantic love and 'normal' lives. This is not simply the story of a mentally disturbed young woman.

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