Dinner & a Movie: ‘Benny & Joon’ with Fancy Grilled Cheese
Serving up Recipes and Reels Each Week
Can you think of one single person who you know – know really well – who you don’t think is at least a little bit crazy? Benny & Joon takes on the heady subject matter of love, mental illness, attachment and ownership. Joon’s disorder is not specified in the film, but most people believe she is schizophrenic or somewhere on the autism spectrum. The film uses the disease as a metaphor for all the foibles and quirks a person accepts in another when they fall in love, and attempts to answer the question posited in the first few lines: What does it mean to really need somebody? Settle in with your favorite person and some grilled cheese sandwiches – you don’t have to make them with an iron.
Benny (Aidan Quinn) is his sister Joon’s caretaker, as we assume he has been since the flashback-tragedy of their parents’ death. As the film opens, we see a housekeeper he’s hired to help keep an eye on Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson) quit, saying that she’s unmanageable. Benny thinks it may be for the best to place Joon in a group home – until she ends up with Sam after losing a poker game.
Sam (Johnny Depp) is a master of physical comedy, ripping routines from Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. This hobby extends to his daily life – we see him mashing potatoes with a tennis racket and rigging a device to make mopping more fun. The score by Rachel Portman makes these and other sections feel like an absurd, beautiful ballet. Sam’s off-kilter perspective allows him to really bond with Joon, and she seems to hone in on the possibility instantly. Upon meeting him, she says (hopefully?), “You’re out of your tree.” Sam’s response? “It’s not my tree.”
The partnership between Sam and Joon works because her illness is never condescended to or patronized. She’s depicted as witty, charming and intelligent. Her gift with words makes it easy to forget she’s sick – like Sam says, “It seems to me that other than being a little mentally ill, she’s pretty normal.” She’s able to help Sam in areas he falls short – while he can rattle off film trivia, he struggles to write a letter or fill out a job application. Seeing them together makes it comical when Benny gives Ruthie (Julianne Moore) the excuse, “My life is really complicated right now.” Whose isn’t? Love is finding someone whose complications are worth it.
Bread – classic white sandwich bread or another of your choice. I like sourdough.
Cheese – mix it up with more than one. Veer away from American “processed cheese food” – it’s melty, but it’s short on taste. Cheddar, Havarti, provolone, feta and Swiss are all good choices.
Extras – whatever strikes your fancy. Suggestions: pesto, sliced heirloom tomatoes, caramelized onions, pickles, sauteed baby bella mushrooms or herbs.
Butter both sides of the bread you’ll be using. In a skillet just below medium heat (about 4 and a half on a 10-point scale), toast one side of the bread. Flip the slices over and construct your sandwich on the toasted side while the other side browns. Layer with cheese first – it’ll help your extras adhere when it melts. You can keep prepared sandwiches in the oven on warm if you need to make a big batch and serve them all at once.