This is what happens when you go snooping around a popular actor's filmography.
Benny & Joon, a Johnny Depp-starring weirdo comedy in which he plays a Charlie Chaplin wannabe who, for whatever reason, starts baby-sitting some moody guy's mentally challenged (or, in movie talk: artistic, quirky and misunderstood) sister, sounded like fun. I mean, Johnny Depp wouldn't sign up to a rom-com unless there was something a bit more to it. Right? As it turns out, the guy clearly just wanted an excuse to be Chaplin/Buster Keaton for a day and show off his... slapstick magic... 'skills'?
Benny & Joon isn't funny. Furthermore, Depp isn't funny in it.
And by god he tries...
I mean, ok, parts of the movie get close to being charming (near the very end, mostly) but most of the time you're just waiting for Benny to punch Sam's (Depp) face in. This is a manipulative little film not so much concerned with developing its characters in any way but instead using the usual genre cliches to make a statement about how being quirky, arty and misunderstood can get you in trouble but whether you're actually in need of professional help or not you should be able to express yourself in your own way no matter how it affects everyone else around you because doctors and treatment are the devil and consideration for others is for grown-ups and Santa Claus. Oh, and eventually you'll find someone equally unconvincing as a human being who will come and be Mr Right and sort everything out with the power of ART and magic hats.
Right, because life is just like that.
Come on now. Nothing in this movie rings true. Like, at all. The whole Benny/Joon relationship did have some dramatic potential which they exploit rather well sometimes but that whole bit is so depressing that Depp's Sam acts as a kind of pill to make the sad parts go away or move the plot into a safe, comfortable Hollywood direction. And that really feels like a cop-out. The whole thing about Joon losing a bet while playing a game of cards and Sam, the bet, being made to live with Benny and Joon is really unconvincing. Why would you bet your cousin? Why would you let a guy take advantage of your mentally challenged sister like that? Why would you let an odd stranger take care of her out of the blue? And why would you iron your sandwiches?
Actually, that's not such a bad idea...
What's with all the peanut butter and jelly shakes/tapioca motif, by the way?
Is it the food of ART?
But I really thing that in trying to be overly artsy, clever and charming Benny & Joon forgets to tell a competent story and create three dimensional characters. It's a shame because you've got a decent cast there: Depp, Oliver Platt, that guy from Cheers who's in everything, Julianne Moore. This should have been a better thought-out flick. As it stands, it's like if John Hughes tried to direct Rainman and failed. Again, the script feels like a template overloaded with unfunny off-beat sequences. It actually reminded me of Drop Dead Fred a bit, kept expecting the guy to show up, jeesh. Depp does his best, channeling silent movie comedians from the silent era and all, but his character is so empty you wonder why he was even given lines at all and what the whole Buster Keaton personality traits has to do with anything.
We get it, he's just like Joon except... his 'thing' is he can't read or write? I don't know.
Overall, this is a movie I wanted to like and expected to at least get a chuckle out of but in the end I just felt like I was suckered in by a fair cast and a relatively intriguing premise to watch a film devoid of the very charm it was really trying to push on you. It could have a made a touching drama and some moments are genuinely emotionally charged, to be fair, but as a comedy it's just not... good. Sorry.
Even with the power of ART on its side.