Netflix this: My Own Private Idaho
By Eva Medoff, June 8th, 2010
Watching My Own Private Idaho, it’s easy to see the predecessor of the modern day hipster. The 1991 film, a follow up to Gus Van Sant’s professional breakthrough with Drugstore Cowboy, is about hustlers on the streets of Portland who wear dirty old boots, aviators and motorcycle jackets. The only difference between them and their modern descendants, perhaps, is that they also live in decrepit, abandoned hotels, exploit their bodies and are actually able to smoke inside diners. But the movie is much more than its setting or its fashion. It’s also a remake of Shakespeare’s Henry the V, a tale of unrequited love and, most of all, an examination of vulnerability: River Phoenix’s character is narcoleptic, leaving him at the mercy of his body and brain wherever he goes.
Keanu Reeves plays our young Shakespearean hero, Scott Favor, the mayor’s son who forsakes thy father for a life of hustling and street living. Existential issues, perhaps? Scott befriends Mike (Phoenix), a small town boy from Idaho who goes on “dates” with gay men for money but is himself gay (though he doesn’t admit it for a while). When Mike experiences narcoleptic episodes, the viewer is treated to a time-lapse visual of rolling prairie land and sunset-skies as Mike dreams of his mother comforting him. Of course, there are some serious unresolved family issues there, regarding an older brother, an absentee mother and a mysterious father. Scott and Mike hit the road in search of Mike’s mother, taking them to Idaho, Italy and all the way back to Portland.
As the movie unfolds, Scott’s division between the rich, comfortable life he had given up and his current life of vice becomes a central issue. Reeves plays his character with a mixture of hot-headed entitlement and occasional sensitivity, while Phoenix’s character, even beyond his narcolepsy, is a shy, vulnerable ball of nerves. My Own Private Idaho is a deep well of emotion that resists cliché and refuses to resolve everything in the manner of most mainstream films. For this and many other reasons, you owe yourself to see it.