Benny & Joon (Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1993)
This feels very representative of a certain brand of 90s American indies which lead into the 2000s idea of the Sundance movie: a comedy with dramatic elements and lot of quirkiness, preferably the type that appeals to cinephiles. It's probably unfair of me to think of this film as part of that category, seeing as this is neither an indie nor a Sundance movie technically, but it fits that mold so well, it's possible it played a role in defining it.
I... did not care for this film, at all. None of these characters ever felt like people to me: Depp is doing his mid-90s Depp thing, Masterson is doing mental illness as a quirk, and Aidan Quinn is perpetuating the proud tradition of the bland, milquetoast protagonist. A charitable view would see him as the "straight man", but that would imply he's enhancing the comedic performances around him, which I didn't find to be the case at all... in general, the film's tone felt very strange to me, as it often can in these types of stories. The plot elements are... ridiculous ? Depp ends up living with our protagonists because of a poker bet ? I guess we're supposed to see that as whimsy and cute, but really everyone involved should probably go to prison just for that. There's also the idea of the group home, which Aidan Quinn decides to send his beloved sister too after suddenly realizing that he doesn't have a life because of her... is this the first time this thought has occured to him ? I guess we're not supposed to think about any of this too much, because the screenplay does not acknowledge any concept of the characters existing outside of the exact role they play here: nothing exists outside of what's on screen.
What is on screen is Johnny Depp doing terrible silent comedy routines. Yes, Chaplin and Keaton were great. That's nice and all, but their comedies had some sort of point to them, some wit. We're supposed to be wowed by Depp's public performance, and he does commit - I'll give him that - but to me it seems that the character (and, given how the film treats it, the screenwriters) understand nothing about what made those silent comedies work. For example, there's a bit where Depp's hat is moving all on its own, and Depp is chasing after it. Why... why is the hat moving ? I guess Depp is making it move, but how does that make sense ? If this were a Keaton gag, you'd have an actual reason (like a mouse trapped under it or something), which would give both the performer and the audience something to react to, as opposed to just watching someone do a trick. Maybe I missed something in there, but all of Depp's bits fell flat to me, which may also be due to the wacky "are we having fun yet?" score accompanying them.
I guess I can see how this may all be endearing and charming if you got on its wavelength... but I didn't. 2/10