River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves star in director Gus Van Sant?s haunting tale of two young street hustlers: Mike Waters, a sensitive narcoleptic who dreams of the mother who abandoned him, and Scott Favor, wayward son of th... more »e mayor of Portland and the object of Mike?s desire. Navigating a volatile world of junkies, thieves, and johns, Mike takes Scott on a quest from the grungy streets to the open highways of the Pacific Northwest, in search of an elusive place called "home." Groundbreaking and visually dazzling, My Own Private Idaho is a stirring look at unrequited love and life at society?s margins.« less
"When *My Own Private Idaho* hit the rental shelves of the local movie theater way back in the early 90's, its reputation spread immediately among the young and restless of my small, conservative home-town. The consensus was of near-unanimous disgust, with common descriptions including "sick," "depraved," and that age-old chestnut "Confusing" with a capital "C." And yet my opinion was, typically, not that of the consensus. My artist's spirit identified with the wanderlust-yearning and puckish wonder inhabited in the vagabond Scott and Mike - a somewhat-sheltered mind's naïve lust for that opposite of its own experience. Although I certainly found myself shocked by the depiction of homosexual prostitution, the romantic tone and Shakespearan prose-play helped to penetrate (so to speak) this gutterpunk-fantasy firmly into the deepest reaches of my life-thirsty cerebrum; if anything, I found the homophobic snarls of my teenage compatriots in regards to this film more disturbing - on an immediate, reactionary level - than any fantastical degradation the film itself presented.Immersed in that heady sensation of nostalgia and curiosity, I looked forward to a mature re-viewing of this art house masterpiece: of filtering Van Zant's intentions through an adult lens. Accordingly, I found that which impressed me most as a child seemed less important to my current mindset, and vice versa - no longer was I wholly enraptured by the wide-shots of empty highways and the plethora of bizarre chance encounters (elements so common to life on the road): having Kerouac'ed my way across the world, I must admit to preferring my own experiences to *Idaho's* hodge-podge questing. Consequently, the depiction of street-life squalor, early 90's-era Portland style, resonated far deeper this time around: a bell-toll for the doomed. River Phoenix shines in perhaps his defining role as Mike, a homeless narcoleptic endlessly conking out in moments of stress, shivering and twitching in ecstatic remembrance of mommy dearest and sharecropper-esque glory (decrepit farmhouses and dust-bowl potato-sprawl): several scenes, including his breakdown at the fire and romper-stomp at the funeral, shine with a quicksilver talent so brilliant that it easily transcends the drug-addled ghost Phoenix was already beginning to become. As for Keanu Reeves... well, I've always been of the opinion that he is the most underrated of H-wood's golden A-list, a man with deep presence and charisma, hampered by a stoic demeanor and tonal limitations. I must admit I found it rather disconcerting to see Neo preening on the cover of a porno-rag: still, Reeve's subtle reactions to Fat Bob and Mike's outspoken coat-tail riding; his recitation of Shakespeare, Henry V style, with a cowboy twang thrown in at the pivotal tension-trigger; and finally his ascension from rebellious naïf to "master of the universe"-Reeves gives an outstanding performance, among his very best (though this may come across as an oxymoron to some - so be it). Moreover, the very tools that romanticize *Idaho's* ne'er-do-well protagonists -- Celtic rhythms, lurid colors, Ye Olde English capering - also flip-side emphasize the constant-trauma and grimy exploitation of the LCD rent-boy's raw existence, with suffering only alleviated via spurts of snorting, drinking, mischief and, perchance, a miraculous stranger's unexpected generosity. As Fat Bob and Mike's illusions of wealth-an eternal party utterly devoid of street-life cost-unravel, the subsequent denouement is immeasurably augmented by the early 'warmth' of the film, and the steady chill that seeps through the cracks, numbing body and mind, overwhelm its progression until abrupt collapse upon the desolate highway of the ending.A few noteworthy scenes: When Fat Bob coldly warns Mike about "Living on yer [arse]," the horrific undercurrent ramifications cut the usual tongue-wag riffing like a knife. Likewise, near the movie's conclusion, when Mike slumps into his ump-teenth narcoleptic fit on a filthy concrete street, the camera pans to Scott newly-settled in his seat of mobile power, enforcing the inevitable destiny of these lost souls, harlots high and low: one elevated to the highest reaches of society, the other forever abandoned to the cold stone and cold hands of the Outskirts. *My Own Private Idaho:* a paean for the lost and lonely, the gutterpunk romantic in us all. Five stars."
Dark Mechanicus JSG | Fortified Bunker, USSA | 07/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Most people seem shocked when I tell them that "My Own Private Idaho" is one of my favorite movies ever, though I don't see why. One of Gus Van Sant's lower budget films, this melancholic adaptation of Shakespeare's "Henry IV" to the American West (chiefly Portland, Oregon and all around the western states) follows the adventures of a road-tripping prodigal son of wealthy and powerful politician (played to perfection by a reflective Keanu Reeves)and his best friend, a narcoleptic prostitute (a visionary performance by the late River Phoenix). "My Own Private Idaho" is a marvel: dreamlike, eerie, haunting, constantly engaging, often surreal. There are a handful of films I have seen that completely transport me out of the feeling I'm seeing a film: this is one of them. The film's first haunting image of River Phoenix, alone, on a desolate stretch of Western highway, taken by his sickness, has to be seen to be believed; the eerie "Riding the Prairie" is a perfect complement to this movie about two strangers in a very strange land, journeying among the hustlers, hookers, con-men, schemers and bon vivants in the modern American West. The plot is loose and rangy, and like its subjects, Van Sant uses it as needed to move the story along: Phoenix's character wants a reconciliation with his estranged mother, and certainly peace with himself. Keanu, sensing debauchery and fun, tags along, and the movie rambles about with them, taking note of their adventures and their pursuers (particularly delightful and outre is their awkward and funny tryst with an older woman, spoiled by Phoenix's narcolepsy, and a splendidly funny turn by Udo Kier as Hans, an unbearably kinky German john who simply will not be left behind). For all its strangeness, there is a rich, empathetic core at the heart of this movie. Interviews with the film's young, hip, pierced and tattooed street prostitutes are funny, free-form, almost documentary in style, and often surprisingly moving, but the film is not hackneyed or saccharine; Van Sant has too much respect for his characters to ever stray into preachiness or movie-of-the-week ("this week: battling child prositution!" tone is not to be found here) territory. The cinematography of "My Own Private Idaho" is lush and alluring, and the story and travels of its young and naive (albeit experienced) protagonists are fresh and intriguing enough for Van Sant to have neglected the tie-in with Shakespeare. That said, the allusion to Keanu as a treacherous Prince Hal, ready to sell out his friends to take up his destiny, doesn't harm the movie, and even accentuates its tragic tone---not to mention that indie-director William Richert is amusing as a latter-day Falstaff. "My Own Private Idaho" is certainly not for everyone, and to many will seem contrived and inaccessible. But for the discriminating viewer who welcomes the opportunity to have River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves serve as tour guides into a strange and unsettling landscape, it will very likely prove unforgettable."
Cory J. Eckstrom | USA | 12/14/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie shocked me at first, but I soon realized that Gus Van Sant and the actors, especially Phoenix strove to present us with a picture and a reality we often don't see or don't choose to see. Welcome to the world of male hustlers. I didn't expect to be taken on a date in the first few minutes, and I was sad to learn how a person can give over their body for a 20$ bill. I was impressed and touched by River Phoenix's preparation for this character. His effort paid off beautifully! I understand through reading some of the biographical books about him; he always threw himself into every character. It is said that in preparation of the film, he spent a great deal of time with one particular hustler, a young man, whom he portrays. In addition, he lost an incredible amount of weight to look the part. Mike Waters is a young man looking for something. From highways to gay bars and back again, he searches for his mother, an ethereal character from his dreams, nightmares, and semi-wakefulness from his bouts of narcolepsy. The fits of instant sleep provided some comical moments, yet I enjoyed it because I was finding out what gave Mike stress. He was also looking for love from a man, and not from turning tricks. The actors often reffered to having sex with another person, for free, which gave you wings. The extent to which Mike and other actors will go to search and strive after a goal is unbelievable: From the high plains to the sea-board cities to France, they wandered from place to place looking for Mike's Mom. There is a conflict between Mike and his older brother, who is more a part of Mike life than he realizes. I was inspired by the courage of the characters to show the depth of comittment that a young man will go through to discover truth, no matter how difficult. I highly recommend this movie to become aware of what happens all around us. We can love others better when remove the labels and love them regardless of where they came from. As a pastor and reviewer, I benefited greatly to seeing a brand new perspective of life and it helped in my work to aid people I know in these situations. It made me wonder - in this season of Christmas why our homes are not open to rejected teens. Loving and intimate relationships are free to give. Mike and his companion had a intense relationship of companionship which didn't revolve around sex That should inspire us to think how we treat the people around us."
I'll ALWAYS be grateful to River Phoenix for this film...
A. Hill | 08/20/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rarely have I been fortunate enough to stumble upon a movie like My Own Private Idaho. From the opening scene of River Phoenix's character Mike Waters standing on the road (that seems to stretch on forever) to his last words back on the same road at the films close. ("I've been tasting roads my whole life. This road will never..end. It probably goes all around the world.") I've watched this movie over and over and I still find it to be the most beautiful, bittersweet, funny, brave and thought-provoking film I've ever seen. The deinitive indie film of the 90's. The issues raised are so close to my own humble heart that certain scenes, (notabley the camp fire scene, Bob's death and funeral, and the closing scene) never fail to reduce me to a blithering mess of empathy, hope, sadness and happiness. A powerful cinematic experience indeed. Brillient direction, fascinating and daring subject matter and, most watch-worthy of all, the best performance ever captured on screen by anyone anywhere. River Phoenix's performance as Mike Waters is simultainiously painfully real, heartwrenchingly sad and achingly beautiful. Much like the actor himself. Hollywoods greatest loss. River, I love you, miss you, thank you and will NEVER forget you."
Weird and wonderful...Keanu Reeves can actually act??
A. Hill | Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, UK | 06/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Being fairly new to the world of 'art-house' movies, i first found this a little confusing, and i was concerned that this strange approach would hinder the emotional impact of the film, rendering it yet another overly stylish, powerless and incomprehensible piece of modern film-art. I had also heard that it was extremely shocking and controversial. However, i began to understand Gus Van Sant's language, and it soon seemed completely natural. The claims regarding its explicit sexual nature have been, fankly, grossly exaggerated and probably the result of mild homophobia. The camp fire scene is the most memorable, with River Phoenix's perfomance as Mike, subtle and shining as usual, bringing to mind the very similar camp-fire scene in "Stand by me". Having only seen Keanu Reeves appear in such films as 'Speed' and 'the Matrix', in which he hardly demonstrates any power or skill as an actor, it came as somewhat of a pleasant surprise to see his humorous and striking portrayal of Scott. A sensitive choice of music contributed to the mood, both in the comic, nostalgic steel-string guitar to the gentle folk song that plays as Mike vows through tears to find his mother (by the way, does anybody know what that song is or how to find out?). I was slightly disappointed and depressed by the ending, which is extremely inconclusive, but i suppose movies don't always need a conclusive ending to make them good. Overall a visually stylish, emotionally powerful movie, with some fantastic acting by River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves."