My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Buddy Film, Gay & Lesbian Films, Road Movie  |   Release Date - Sep 29, 1991 (USA)  |   Run Time - 102 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Gus Van Sant's third feature further established him as a spokesman not just for alienated gay men but also for disaffected youth in general. A harsh, beautiful, and fervently original portrait of alienation, betrayal, and unrequited love, My Own Private Idaho was one of the defining films of both Van Sant's career and the New Queer Cinema of the 1990s. While Drugstore Cowboy (1989), Van Sant's previous film, had focused on a group of people driven to society's fringes by their drug addiction, Idaho dramatizes a group of people driven to society's fringes by their sexuality. As in Cowboy, Van Sant refrains from grand pronouncements about the lifestyle of the social/sexual outlaw; and his focus on the relationship between River Phoenix's Mike and Keanu Reeves' Scott gives the film emotional resonance. Phoenix in particular is heartbreaking as the lovelorn, narcoleptic Mike, whose campfire-side declaration of love for Scott remains one of the most poignant and honest depictions of male-to-male longing ever captured onscreen. Phoenix's quiet, raw portrayal of the young hustler would be constantly referenced in tributes to the actor following his untimely death in 1993, and the close association seems fitting: with its bleak, dreamy ambience and mournful yet unsentimental story, My Own Private Idaho feels less like a narrative than like an elegy for the romantic aimlessness of youthful alienation.