Quick recap: Mike (River Phoenix), a narcoleptic hustler, goes on a journey to find his mom and takes his best friend Scott (Keanu Reeves) with him.
Fun (?) fact: When My Own Private Idaho was released on video in America, it was marketed as a straight film, with both main characters embracing a woman.
My thoughts: The only other River Phoenix film I can recall having seen is Stand by Me, and although he did an excellent job, I never really understood the way some people would wax poetic about him, calling him the next James Dean. But now I’ve seen My Own Private Idaho and I totally get it. That kid was talented and it’s incredibly sad to know that he would be dead in a couple of years, after giving such a powerful performance. I’ve seen plenty of Keanu Reeves movies, on the other hand, and this one also sticks out as one of his best, if not the best of his career.
This is one of those movies that I enjoyed very much, but didn’t fall in love with. I loved the spirit of the movie and how even though the subject matter was heavy, it never felt depressing. Although most of the film is about Mike looking for his mother who abandoned him as a child, the real issue is that he is in love with Scott. Scott, on the other hand, is just a rebellious rich kid. He goes with Mike to Portland, Idaho and Italy, managing to stay platonic even though it is obvious how hard Mike has fallen for him. There’s a great scene, the best in the movie, where Mike finally confesses his love and Scott listens but doesn’t reciprocate. It’s tragic and also anticlimactic because the two pack up and continue their journey the next day. At the end of the film, Scott falls in love with a woman, inherits his fortune and completely turns away from his old life living on the streets. Mike on the other hand, continues to exist exactly like he always has and heads out in search of new family.
One of my favorite aspects of the film is how the issues of being gay and homeless in the early 90s looked. There is one scene where a bunch of the boys sit around at a diner at talk about their first time being raped and assaulted while hustling. It was incredibly sad, but what made it so was that there was so little emotion attached to the stories. They were violated, yet couldn’t do much about it because they had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. So, they created their own family of people who understood and would protect them if need be. Although I couldn’t identify with every issue, the theme of creating your own family out of people you love is a comforting one.
Final review: 4/5. I would’ve given it a 3 because the Shakespeare was a little confusing and pretentious, but the presence of Flea bumped it up.
Up next: a retrospective of the last 100 movies I have watched