Friday, April 23, 2010

Short Review: My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991)

I felt like My Own Private Idaho was a somewhat misguided film that lacked an agenda, wasted time on idle and struggled to present motive or cause for action. A heartbreaking tale, it was beautifully shot at times and River Phoenix's performance is a powerhouse as an estranged, narcoleptic youth. I liked a lot about it, but i never really found it engaging. It's a bold achievement and I understand why it made Gus Van Sant notable, but i think it will require a second viewing to fully appreciate. 

Mike (River Phoenix) is essentially living in his own world. Every time his brain chemically reacts to stress and forces him into a deep sleep (often in the middle of the road, or in public places), Mike has visions of country cottages and long open roads, and the shifting clouds that govern this realm are quickened, creating a hypnotic dream/escape from reality. I believe it is these visions that the title refers to. His painful reality is that he was abandoned as a child and raised on the streets. He is a confused young man, in love with his best friend and searching for his true mother and the history of his family. He was trained in the street as a hustler and small-time crook with a small group of misfits, and like his best friend, Scott (Keanu Reeves), taken under the wing of poet and cult leader, Bill.

Mike's life of poverty is open to chance, relying on kind passers-by to take care of him, and often to move him from harm. Scott is the rebellious teen of the Mayor, who is only weeks away from his inheritance. He has chosen to whore himself about town and live on the streets, rejecting his upper-class status and humiliating his father and his political party. Scott and Mike begin a journey from Portland to Idaho and finally to Rome in search of Mike's mother, altering their lives forever and building between the two an unbreakable bond. Overall, I was disappointed by My Own Private Idaho. I expected a little more, but it's certainly memorable for Phoenix's incredible performance.

My Rating: 3 Stars

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