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Benny & Joon

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Benny & Joon
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJeremiah S. Chechik
Screenplay byBarry Berman
Story byBarry Berman
Lesley McNeil
Produced bySusan Arnold
Donna Arkoff Roth
CinematographyJohn Schwartzman
Edited byCarol Littleton
Music byRachel Portman
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • April 23, 1993 (1993-04-23)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$30 million[1]

Benny & Joon is a 1993 American romantic comedy-drama film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer about how two eccentric individuals, Sam (Johnny Depp) and Juniper "Joon" (Mary Stuart Masterson), find each other and fall in love. Aidan Quinn also stars, and it was directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik.

The film features Depp's physical comedy routines (which are based on silent film comics Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd). In the United States, it popularized the song "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by The Proclaimers.[2] Benny & Joon was shot primarily on location in Spokane, Washington, while the train scenes at the beginning were shot near Metaline Falls, Washington.


Benjamin "Benny" Pearl and his mentally ill sister Juniper ("Joon") live together following the accidental death of their parents. Joon joins a poker game at a friend's house and loses a bet that commits Sam, the eccentric cousin of Benny's buddy Mike, to live with the Pearls. Benny is initially angry, but after an evening with Sam at the local diner and then coming home the next day to find Sam has cleaned the house, Benny decides Sam should stay.

Joon aids Sam (who is illiterate) when he is struggling with writing to his mother, and the two go to the local diner where Ruthie is working. She takes them on an errand, and then takes them home. After Ruthie stays for dinner, her car won't start, and Benny drives her home, where they set a dinner date. Meanwhile, left alone, Joon and Sam kiss. Benny and Ruthie have a fun date, but Benny abruptly ends it because he wants to get home to Joon. Sam goes to a video store to try to apply for a job there. Benny, Joon, and Sam go to a park, where Sam starts doing tricks with his hat, attracting an appreciative crowd. Benny stays at the park to reflect and sends Joon home with Sam, where they make love. Sam then tells Joon he loves her, which Joon reciprocates.

When Benny makes suggestions to Sam about his comedy routines, Joon becomes agitated and makes Sam explain that he and Joon are romantically involved. An angry Benny throws Sam out, yells at Joon, and shows her a pamphlet about a group home that would be a better home for her. Joon starts hitting Benny and screaming, and he pushes her away. Feeling bad, Benny leaves to get her some pudding. While Benny is away, Sam arrives. They pack suitcases and get on a bus, but Joon soon begins to hear voices in her head and argues with them, in great distress. Sam tries to soothe her, but she becomes more agitated. The bus is stopped, and two paramedics restrain Joon. When Benny arrives at the hospital, the doctor tells him Joon does not want to see him. He finds Sam in the waiting room, and they argue. After telling Benny off, Sam goes to stay with Ruthie. Meanwhile, Benny begins to feel guilty about his treatment of Joon.

Benny finds Sam, now working at the video store, and asks for his help. They go to the hospital. Benny apologizes to Joon, persuades her to consider getting her own apartment, and tells her that Sam has come back for her. Joon tells the doctor that she would like to try living in her own apartment. The siblings reconcile and Sam and Joon are reunited. Later, Benny brings roses to Ruthie. He takes another bouquet to Joon's apartment but leaves the flowers in the doorway when he sees Sam and Joon are busy making grilled cheese sandwiches with a clothing iron.



Woody Harrelson was originally cast to play the role of Benny, while Laura Dern was considered for the role of Joon.[3][4][5] Dern passed on the role, and Harrelson quit to take a role in Indecent Proposal.[3] Aidan Quinn was brought in at the last minute to replace Harrelson. A lawsuit later ensued with Winona Ryder, who was dating Johnny Depp at the time and was slated to play Joon after Dern quit. Depp and Ryder broke up, leaving the role of Joon open, which was given to Masterson just days before production began.[6]


Critical reception[edit]

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four and wrote, "The story wants to be about love, but is also about madness, and somehow it weaves the two together with a charm that would probably not be quite so easy in real life."[7] Owen Gleiberman gave the film a grade of "B", saying "the movie is full of absurdist fripperies we're meant to find magically funny; mostly they're just cute (Sam cooking up grilled cheese sandwiches with an iron, a poker game in which a snorkel mask and baseball tickets are used as stakes). Beneath the domesticated surrealism, though, Benny & Joon becomes genuinely touching–a love story about separation anxiety. Benny, the saintly grease monkey, thinks he has to devote his life to Joon in order to keep her out of an institution. Can he give her the space she needs to fall in love (and then take said space for himself)? You already know the answer, but Quinn and Masterson – now gentle, now sniping – let it play out with tender conviction."[8] Janet Maslin wrote:

In a more realistic film (and to some degree this film recalls Dominick and Eugene, which also dealt with a hard-working brother taking care of a mentally impaired sibling), troubling issues might well shade the story. But Benny and Joon succeeds in remaining blithe and sunny, directed by Jeremiah Chechik (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) with a commercial liveliness and a suitable sense of the absurd. The film's greatest asset is the obvious conviction of its actors, who never condescend to their roles. Mr. Depp may look nothing like Buster Keaton, but there are times when he genuinely seems to become the Great Stone Face, bringing Keaton's mannerisms sweetly and magically to life. As Mr. Depp and the rest of the film makers surely must have known, an impersonation like that is an all-or-nothing proposition. Ms. Masterson, a remarkably incisive and determined actress, never sentimentalizes Joon despite many ripe opportunities to do exactly that. She remains fierce, funny and persuasive even when the film conveniently soft-pedals the reality of Joon's situation. Mr. Quinn, often in the position of playing straight man to the other two leads, still makes Benny a touchingly sincere and sympathetic figure.[9]

On Rotten Tomatoes, Benny & Joon holds an approval rating of 76% based on 41 reviews, with an average score of 5.80/10.[10] On Metacritic the film has a score of 57 out of 100 based on reviews from 21 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[11] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[12]

Box office[edit]

In spite of its "commercially improbable story", the film became a sleeper hit, evidence of the resurgence of date movies "after a decade dominated by action film and horror films."[3] In the first two weeks of a limited release, Benny & Joon grossed $8 million. Its domestic box office total reached over $23.2 million.[13] It grossed $7 million internationally for a worldwide total of $30 million.[1]

Portrayal of schizophrenia[edit]

Roger Ebert writes that Joon is "schizophrenic, although the screenplay doesn't ever say the word out loud."[14] David J. Robinson remarks, "More convincing features of schizophrenia (undifferentiated type) soon follow. We are told that Joon experiences auditory hallucinations, does well with a stable routine, and takes medication on a daily basis. Her use of language is one of her most interesting attributes. She uses the last housekeeper's surname ("Smail") to refer to anyone who might fill the position, which is how Sam (Johnny Depp) enters her life."[15] E. Fuller Torrey calls the film "a beautifully filmed, but unrealistic story about a brother who is the sole caretaker of his kid sister, who has schizophrenia. ... While the film addresses such issues as noncompliance with medication and disputes over independent living arrangements, the bad times are never too severe or long-lasting.[16] Reviewers Mick Martin and Marsha Porter remarked "[Although] most viewers will enjoy this bittersweet comedy ... Folks coping with mental illness in real life will be offended by yet another film in which the problem is sanitized and trivialized".[17]

Musical adaptation[edit]

A stage musical adaptation of the movie premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California, from September 2 to October 22, 2017.[18] The musical features music by Nolan Gasser, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, book by Kirsten Guenther, choreography by Scott Rink and direction by Jack Cummings III. The show ran at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, from April 4 to May 5, 2019. The Paper Mill production featured Claybourne Elder as Benny, Hannah Elless as Joon and Bryce Pinkham as Sam.[19][20]


Award Category Recipients Result
Golden Globe Awards[21] Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Johnny Depp Nominated
MTV Movie Awards[22] Best Comedic Performance Nominated
Best On-Screen Duo Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson Nominated
Best Song From a Movie The Proclaimers – "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" Nominated


  1. ^ a b Klady, Leonard (January 3, 1994). "Warner Bros. tops hot box office 100". Variety. p. 42.
  2. ^ "I'm Gonna be (500 Miles) - the Proclaimers". toponehitwonders.com. Archived from the original on 2017-03-29. Retrieved 2015-04-04.
  3. ^ a b c Murphy, Ryan (May 7, 1993). "Benny & Joon beats the odds". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on September 26, 2016. Retrieved 2011-09-29. After a decade dominated by action films, the sleeper success of Benny & Joon — an oddball romance starring Masterson and Depp as seemingly ill-matched lovers who find each other a perfect fit — is the latest evidence that movies made for couples are finding their niche once again.
  4. ^ "No Clowning Around: Big Top Helped Prepare 'Benny & Joon' Author for Screenwriting". The Morning Call. April 11, 1993. Archived from the original on 19 June 2023. Retrieved 19 June 2023.
  5. ^ Haanen, Roel (2021). "A Failure You Cannot Own". Flashback Files. Retrieved 19 June 2023. Laura was considered, not cast. We had met several times. She was interested in doing it, but I don't remember if she passed on it or I did.
  6. ^ Saban, Stephen (October 1994). "The Mighty Quinn". Movieline. p. 67.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (April 16, 1993). "Benny and Joon". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2020-09-09.
  8. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (April 23, 1993). "Benny & Joon". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2011-09-29.
  9. ^ Maslin, Janet (April 16, 1993). "He's His Sister's Keeper, and What a Job That Is". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-29.
  10. ^ "Benny & Joon". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  11. ^ "Benny & Joon". Metacritic.
  12. ^ "Benny and Joon (1993)". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  13. ^ Benny & Joon at Box Office Mojo
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (1997). Roger Ebert's Video Companion. Andrews & McMeel. p. 69. ISBN 978-0836236880.
  15. ^ Robinson, David J. (2003). Reel Psychiatry: Movie Portrayals of Psychiatric Conditions. p. 36. ISBN 978-1894328074.
  16. ^ Torrey, E. Fuller (28 March 2006). Surviving Schizophrenia: A Manual for Families, Patients, and Providers (fifth ed.). p. 377. ISBN 978-0-06-084259-8.
  17. ^ Martin, Mick; Porter, Marsha (2001). Video movie guide 2002. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-345-42100-5.
  18. ^ Hebert, James (September 16, 2017). "'Benny & Joon' has charm but trips a bit in leap from screen to stage". The San Diego Union-Tribune.
  19. ^ "Cast and Creative Team Announced for Benny & Joon". papermill.org. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  20. ^ Gans, Andrew (April 14, 2019). "Claybourne Elder, Hannah Elless, and Bryce Pinkham Star in Paper Mill's 'Benny & Joon' Musical, Opening April 14". Playbill.
  21. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1994". GoldenGlobes.com. Archived from the original on 19 January 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2023.
  22. ^ "MTV Movie Awards 1994". MTV. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved 19 June 2023.

External links[edit]