USA Today Newspaper - April 26, 1993, Life Section, Page 3D



Masterson's Eye for the Offbeat Hitting Big in Modest Movies
Written by David Landis


Proving Fried Green Tomatoes was no fluke, Mary Stuart Masterson is riding another movie dark horse to success and acclaim.

Like the surprise hit Tomatoes, Benny & Joon lacks high concept and a big budget, choosing instead to explore simpler topics like love, dependence and finding one's place in the world. Some reviewers have touted it as the perfect "date" movie.

"Everybody swings for the fences all the time," says Masterson of Hollywood's blockbuster obsession. "Things like Benny & Joon - there should be five of them for every one of the (blockbusters)."

The results bear her out. Benny, in which Masterson plays a mentally disturbed young woman who falls for another lost soul, was the nation's No. 3 movie over the weekend, its first in wide release.

Aidan Quinn plays Benny, Joon's overprotective brother who at first takes a dim view of her budding relationship with Sam (Johnny Depp), a guileless circus clown-wannabe.

Benny's early box-office success is even more remarkable considering the movie had to dance around the subject of Joon's affliction, schizophrenia. The term is never mentioned in the movie "to prevent it from becoming a clinical TV movie treatment," Masterson says.

She researched schizophrenia for the role. Playing it "was a little tricky," she says, "because you definitely didn't want to have this be a descent into madness. It's not like she's cured at the end. It's just that she's happy."

Masterson, in her mid-20s, says she hadn't intended to make a career of the sensitive, troubled young woman roles that have brought her so much success. It is a result, she says, of Hollywood's tendency to typecast, and the lack of other opportunities.

"People have a hard time letting you be anything other than the seductress; murderess; junior, sexless, almost-tomboyish waif; or put-upon victim. It's hard to find anything that interests you that's not one of those things."

Being choosy means "you just have to be unemployed for a little while longer," says Masterson, who says she hasn't worked in nine months.

Rather than sit around waiting, she has written her own starring vehicle, Around the Block, which she hopes to get before cameras by fall. She'll also direct.

As you might have guessed, it's not high concept. "It's a love story basically, between a man and a woman who have their baggage from previous experiences. They have all these obstacles to getting intimate. It's pretty basic, but..."