After all these long-forgotten romance movies, Judge Ryan Keefer could use a nice game of football and a big steak.
Our review of Benny And Joon (Blu-ray), published April 25th, 2011, is also available.
"Some cultures are defined by their relationship to cheese."
Since acquiring the MGM library, the folks at Sony have been repackaging some of the more popular films in the collection for convenience or for an infusion of cash. So among these two packs of discs, this one includes a very young Reese Witherspoon in The Man in the Moon and a post-21 Jump Street Johnny Depp in Benny and Joon. Is this one convenient package of fun?
Facts of the Case
Let's take a stroll back into the early '90s and recall the films in this duopoly, shall we?
• Benny and Joon
Juniper (Mary Stuart Masterson, Bad Girls) is a mentally disabled woman who lives in a house with her brother Benny (Aidan Quinn, Practical Magic). They have lived with each other since childhood when their parents were killed in a car crash. Juniper (or Joon) keeps forcing housekeepers from her house, and Benny is finding it hard to take care of her while running an auto service with his friend Eric (Oliver Platt, The Ice Harvest). Benny plays poker frequently with his other friends Thomas (Dan Hedaya, Swimfan) and Mike (Joe Grifasi, 13 Going on 30). And in a one chance night of poker playing, Joon sits in at the table and plays a couple of hands, and loses to Mike, and Mike decides to push his cousin Sam (Depp) onto Benny and Joon, and they wind up on a trip that none of them had anticipated.
• The Man in the Moon
In Witherspoon's acting debut, she plays Danielle Trant, a 14-year-old girl who is the middle child of three, with a fourth on the way. She lives in Louisiana with her parents Matthew (Sam Waterston, The Killing Fields) and Abigail (Tess Harper, The Jackal) and their oldest daughter Maureen (Emily Warfield, Calendar Girl). Danielle (or Dani) loves Elvis and is generally considered to be a mild troublemaker in the family, while Maureen is the pretty one who gets all the boys. One day, a friend of Abigail's comes back to town and brings her oldest son Court (Jason London, Dazed and Confused) with her. Dani starts to develop a bit of a crush on Court, and she subconsciously begins a journey that sees her develop from a girl to a young lady.
Benny and Joon is based on a screenplay by Barry Berman (Waterproof) and directed by Jeremiah Chechik (Diabolique). The conversation piece behind the film was clearly Depp's performance, which is a hybrid of interpretations of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. And the physical comedy in that tradition that Depp displays is quite charming. The story itself isn't too bad, but as Benny, Quinn's character development into someone that maybe should not hold onto the reins too tightly is a little bit painful to experience. I liked that there are very young versions of William H. Macy (Fargo) and Julianne Moore (Magnolia). Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, it's not as good looking as you'd expect, and there's a lot of edge enhancement—in scenes around the hospital for instance. The two-channel Dolby surround mix is very quiet and muted, and the sound through your television speakers better carries the movie in my opinion.
The extras are pretty bland, but at least there are some, so mad props go to Sony/MGM for that. Chechik contributes a commentary to the film, but there isn't really much contributed to the film that can't be found on an IMDb trivia track. There are also some deleted scenes that don't contribute much to the film, along with some test footage of the costumes and stunts behind the film. The trailer is here, and everyone's favorite 1990s music video featuring Scottish twins The Replacements with "500 Miles" wraps the thing up in a nice package.
I wonder if Reese Witherspoon knew what was ahead of her when she was cast in The Man in the Moon, directed by Robert Mulligan, who had helmed other films such as Summer of '42 and To Kill a Mockingbird? Nevertheless, for her first acting role, she shows off some amazing talent and perspective that is fairly poignant. In a way, this is kind of like an estrogen induced version of Brighton Beach Memoirs, with Dani as Eugene Morris Jerome, and without breaking down the fourth wall or the somewhat intellectual wit.
Her performance isn't the only one that holds up the film, as Waterston and Harper are great supportive parents. They are Southern without swimming in too much of an accent. As Abigail's friend Marie, Gail Strickland (The American President) does well with the few scenes she has, and London as the son that is the object of attention isn't too bad either. If there was a problem with the film, it's that the ending seemed to be a little bit on the hokey side. But it seemed to help give credence to the overall message that before the film, Dani was still a girl and didn't know too much about the world, and afterwards, Dani had done her fair share of growing up, and wouldn't be the same again.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Housing The Man in the Moon and Benny and Joon together in one package is kind of like having a huge bowl full of vanilla ice cream. Too much will make you sick and never want any more ever again, so you have to ration it out however you can.
For convenience's sake, the movies are harmless enough and are packaged and priced right for those that need to stack up on things from the $7-12 bin at Walmart. The only thing is that the movie choices are a little bit mixed, so if you're going to get one of these, I'd go more towards The Man in the Moon as it's a but more memorable than Benny and Joon.
The judicial side of me finds against the filmmakers of Benny and Joon. The coupon clipping, bargain hunting alter ego finds for this strategy and hopes it's used more prudently going forward, and acquits the cast and crew of The Man in the Moon.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Man In The Moon / Benny And Joon
Perp Profile, Man In The Moon / Benny And Joon
Distinguishing Marks, Man In The Moon / Benny And Joon
Scales of Justice, Benny And Joon
Perp Profile, Benny And Joon
Distinguishing Marks, Benny And Joon
• Commentary with Director Jeremiah Chechick
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