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  My Own Private Idaho Do The Hustle
Year: 1991
Director: Gus Van Sant
Stars: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, James Russo, William Richert, Rodney Harvey, Chiara Casselli, Michael Parker, Jessie Thomas, Flea, Grace Zabriskie, Tom Troupe, Udo Kier, Sally Curtice, Robert Lee Pitchlynn, Mickey Cottrell, Wade Evans, Jim Caviezel
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: A stretch of country road in Idaho, and Mike (River Phoenix) is stranded there, pondering his next move. He has just woken up, as he suffers from narcolepsy, a condition which renders him unconscious when he undergoes any intense or stressful experience, which has gotten him into all sorts of trouble over the years. He notices a rabbit in the nearby field and calls to it, perceiving a connection between them, but as he begins to reflect on the events which brought him here - he falls asleep right there in the road.

My Own Private Idaho was made when writer and director Gus Van Sant was marking out his territory as one of the defining talents of the nineteen-nineties indie movie scene, and there was an unmistakeable gift for the visuals here which did not quite obscure how pretentious the rest of the work was. This was undoubtedly one of the best-looking of its kind, proving that while Mike's tale could be seedy and sordid, that did not mean his world had to be depicted as a grey grind of misery, and that his hope that he would one day be reunited with his absent since childhood mother may be fulfilled.

So there was a compensation that as Van Sant ploughed his furrow there was always something to catch the eye, whether it be a landscape with now-cliché rolling clouds speeding over the horizon, or a hotel room where Udo Kier was spoofing Dean Stockwell's setpiece from Blue Velvet. Good old Udo, he supplied some much needed humour to what was, under that surface, rather dull, meaning the lead character's tendency to fall asleep was all too sympathetic to those members of the audience not tuned to Van Sant's wavelength. That state of affairs extended to remaking Chimes at Midnight as a story about male prostitutes.

Or rather, rethinking Shakespeare, the inspiration for Orson Welles, in that manner, not a terrible idea but loading a weight of significance on what could have been a simple, sad gay romance between Mike and his fellow hustler Scott (Keanu Reeves). Scott is an heir to a vast fortune in a Prince Hal style, but has eschewed his responsibilities to go underground, which is where he meets Mike and begins to look out for him, particularly on the umpteen occasions where he passes out. We can tell that the pressures of Scott's life will not bring this relationship to a happy conclusion, but while the two young men are in each other's company, they can contribute some purpose to what could be all too aimless.

That purpose winds up being seeking out Mike's mother, even going back to his old haunts to meet his father (if he is his father) to glean more information, but as with too much of My Own Private Idaho - supposedly inspired by the B-52's song not featured anywhere on the soundtrack - its destination is nowhere in particular. William Richert, himself a filmmaker, appeared as the Falstaff stand-in Bob, so you can see where this was going even if you didn't know the plays, and if you didn't then when Mike and Scott head to Italy and the latter falls in love with a local girl (Chiara Casselli) the time for the boys' affair is pretty much up. Offering the film its curious, soporific tone, Van Sant added anything from surreal image inserts to real life rent boys telling their stories, so you could observe this was not quite like anything else and the film very much in his emerging methods, but how much that appealed to you would depend on whether you could stay engaged with the listless tone. Sweet campfire scene, though, the bit everyone recalls as it illustrated the soon to be deceased Phoenix's James Dean-esque skill, here more muted. Music by Bill Stafford.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Gus Van Sant  (1952 - )

Vaguely arty American director whose films rarely seem quite as satisfying as they should. Drugstore Cowboy remains his best effort, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues undoubtedly his worst. My Own Private Idaho, To Die For, Columbine shootings-based Elephant and Kurt Cobain-inspired Last Days have their fans, and Good Will Hunting was a big success, but the scene-for-scene Psycho remake must be his oddest venture. After a decade of experimentation, including desert trek oddity Gerry, he returned to the mainstream in 2008 with the award-winning biopic Milk then reverted to smaller projects once more, including biopic Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot.

 
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