Essential Pick of the Week – My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Week #6

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Directed by:  Gus Van Sant (New Line Cinema)

You may think that a film based around male prostitution would focus on sex. But Gus Van Sant’s 1991 picture does not wrap itself in stereotypical themes of prostitution and sexuality. My Own Private Idaho plays with Shakespeare’s Henry IV part I and II. While placing its central characters into the urban bustle and rural beauty of Portland, Oregon. Dovetailing the freedom of wide-open landscapes with a suffocating yet intoxicating cityscape. Scott (Keanu Reeves) and Mike (River Phoenix) care for each other, sharing their hopes and dreams in a nuanced mesh of male love and unrequited longing.

For both River and Keanu, ‘Idaho’ was a huge risk. After all this was a film centred around themes that were still taboo in early 90s America. Both men subverting their teen idol status in exploring street hustlers and sexuality. But for River this was also an opportunity to fully immerse himself in a character he could build. A character that could be shaped with a Director open to his creativity. 

This urge to build the character of Mike, led River to spend nights on Portlands city streets. Talking with rent boys while momentarily living their life and dabbling in their work. His mission to ensure his character accurately gave voice to men and boys without one. The end result being one of the finest onscreen performances ever committed to celluloid. An Oscar worthy lead performance that was simply too risky for Hollywood attention.

Idaho takes us on an unforgettable journey of love in the midst of hurt, companionship and a dream like need for belonging and safety. As a result creating one of the finest LGBTQ films of the past 30 years.

Cast:  River PhoenixKeanu ReevesJames Russo