A genuinely poetic voice is heard in MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO. Taking the form of a road movie, blended with elements borrowed from the two parts of Shakespeare's Henry IV, the film chronicles the misadventures of Mike Waters (River Phoenix), a lonesome young hustler who suffers from
narcolepsy--he passes out at stressful moments and must literally depend on strangers to protect him. After one such fit at the opening of the film, Mike awakens in a Seattle flophouse, being fellated by a balding, overweight john. Later, he's picked up and taken to the home of a rich matron,
where he meets Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), the rebellious son of the mayor of Portland. After Mike has another fit, Scott carries him to a safe place to sleep it off. The next day Mike meets Hans (Udo Kier), a rich German, falls asleep again, and ends up in Portland with Scott. Led by the
Falstaffian Bob Pigeon (William Richert), Mike, Scott and several other hustlers take over a derelict building, only to be cleared out by a police raid. The police are searching for Bob, but they also let Scott know that he must go to see his disapproving father, which he does before setting off
with Mike on a motorbike to look for Mike's mother. The search takes them to Idaho, Snake River, and Italy, before the two return to the West Coast to fulfil their very different destinies.
Van Sant (MALA NOCHE, DRUGSTORE COWBOY) combines a realistic grasp of the underside of urban life with a visual sense that is by turns playful and elegiac. In one scene, a group of real-life hustlers exchange stories in a dingy coffee bar, with the director perfectly capturing the aimlessness and
pathos which pervade their lives. In a more light-hearted set piece, the covers of a rack of gay porn magazines come to life with pop-art brio (a similar sensibility is evident in the screens of bright, 60s colors which divide up the film's sections.) Perhaps most memorably, Waters's narcoleptic
trances are accompanied by fleeting images of extraordinary beauty: leaping fish in a silver stream; a lonely road; a bank of quickly moving clouds; a wooden house falling from the heavens.
Van Sant's attempt to impose a Shakesperean conceit on his material is much less successful. Though Richert brings an enjoyable Falstaffian swagger to the Henry IV sequences, most of the other actors seem ill at ease with Van Sant's self-consciously theatrical blend of Shakesperean dialogue and
contemporary street slang. All these sequences pale in comparison to the understated pathos of the quiet scenes. In the most moving of these--a nighttime, roadside confession by Mike of his love for Scott--Van Sant casts a gently hypnotic spell that is not easily forgotten.
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: A genuinely poetic voice is heard in MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO. Taking the form of a road movie, blended with elements borrowed from the two parts of Shakespeare's Henry IV, the film chronicles the misadventures of Mike Waters (River Phoenix), a lonesome young… (more)