Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Benny and Joon


Here is a film about someone with a mental illness that is a little more honest than two we have seen recently, those being Silver Linings Playbook and King of California. Both those movies annoyed me, as I was expected to somehow go along with the fanatical self-centeredness of the main characters. Here, Mary Stuart Masterson is a schizophrenic living at home with her long-suffering brother, Aiden Quinn. He has no life outside of watching over her. It’s getting harder and harder, but he still resists putting her in a group home. They say that no one gets cancer alone, a family gets cancer. And it’s the same with mental illness. Everything revolves around taking care of that loved one who is off her rocker.

Sam (Johnny Depp) enters their life as a very eccentric but not crazy young man who ends up being their housekeeper. He has wacky ways of doing things, and can channel Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, as well as do magic tricks. It’s clear that he’s good for Joon. They fall in love. Benny isn’t in favor of it, and throws Sam out. Sam and Joon run away on a bus, but she isn’t up to it. She starts hearing voices, freaking out. Clearly she just can’t handle normal activities away from her safe haven. She is hospitalized and Benny comes to believe he has been too protective of her. So she gets her own apartment, which I assume she shares with Sam.

It’s better than those other two films I mentioned, but it still makes mental illness entirely too cleaned up and tolerable. I suppose a situation like that could be made to work, since Sam seems so totally devoted to her, willing to have his life revolve around hers. As long as she stays on her meds, that is, something schizophrenics have a hard time doing. I guess I may be coming down too hard on a story that is meant to be just a gentle tale, not a “snake pit” horror story. But I continue to believe that real mental illness is not a very good subject for either comedy or romance.