August 5, 2003

A Romance on the Brink of Reality


It's always painful to watch someone do a lackluster impression of the great physical comic from the silent era, Buster Keaton. One has to wince when it becomes apparent that there wasn't a whole lot of 'prat' in the prat falls. On the other hand, watching someone- be it a stand-up comic or an actor- execute a flawless cane twirl or practiced flip of a top hat is mesmerizing. Luckily, Johnny Depp's performance in 1993's Benny and Joon falls into the latter category. Depp plays Sam, an illiterate but sweet social misfit who is used as betting fodder in a poker game and as a result moves in with brother and sister Benny and Joon (Aidan Quinn and Marty Stewart Masterson). Benny has been caring for the mentally unbalanced, but brilliantly artistic, Joon since their parents' death 12 years prior.

Luckily, Benny and Joon avoids the tired cliche of the protective, sacrificing older sibling who cares for a handicapped brother or sister, while wanting nothing in return. Benny and Joon feel like real people: Benny worries about Joon's safety, but also longs to be able to play poker with his friends without dragging his sister along. The pair obviously love each other, but they fight like real brothers and sisters do. Benny isn't the perfect caregiver and Joon isn't a model patient. But that's what makes them interesting.

And then there's Depp's Sam. The extended sequences of physical comedy are truly amazing. Even simple things like rolls and forks in the town diner are put to comedic use by Sam, who makes little legs and feet out of the food and utensils and dances them to the background music. It's one of those things that look easy, but admit it, when was the last time you made your food dance?

Joon and Sam's romance is tentative and touching at the same time. We want them to be together, but we also understand Benny's concern for his sister. We root for Joon to become independent, but we worry about her penchant for starting fires. In short, director Jeremy Chechik paints characters that come alive for us and who we genuinely care for. And it doesn't hurt that one of them is the supremely talented and versatile Mr. Depp.

Posted by jordan at August 5, 2003 10:45 PM