Tuesday, February 4, 2014

834. My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Gus Van Sant
Written By: Gus Van Sant
Main Cast: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, William Richert, James Russo, Rodney Harvey
Click here to view the trailer


Note: So I was going through the remaining 210 films the other night (with the help of my wife), making sure that I had access to all of them and I realized that I'm still missing "Man of Iron". If anyone reading this can tell me where I can get my hands on this film, I'd be very appreciative. It's the only thing that I don't have access to and could REALLY use a helping hand. Thanks.

Now then...

This was, I think, the third time I've seen "My Own Private Idaho" and every time I watch it, I'm sure that this will be the time I fall in love with it. However, every time I watch it, I'm left wanting something more and have been disappointed every time. More on that later.

Mike (Phoenix) is a street hustler, selling his body for 10s & 20s and suffering from a pretty rabid case of narcolepsy at the same time. The film begins by introducing us to Mike and his fellow hustlers and establishing that Mike was abandoned by his parents at a young age. The film begins in Seattle, with Mike meeting with a few clients (Mike takes on mainly gay clients, but isn't above entertaining the occasional woman). After this, Mike returns to Portland with hustler friend Scott (Reeves), where the two continue their street life. They meet up with an old friend, a father figure to them named Bob (Richert) and together with a group of other street hustlers, the boys plan a robbery. Following this, Scott and Mike travel together to meet with Mike's older brother, in search of Mike's mother, whom he hopes to find and reconcile with. Along the way, Mike professes his love for Scott, but is rejected. It's also worth noting that Scott is set to inherit a fortune from his wealthy father, but chooses the hustler life, mainly to spite the father that he never saw eye to eye with. Their journey leads them to Idaho and then to Italy, as the two try desperately to locate Mike's mother.

What's the point? There really isn't one is there? You've got several different stories, none of which are given enough time to really flourish and in my opinion, the film never really takes off. This was Van Sant's follow-up to his 1989 masterpiece "Drugstore Cowboy", another film that tried a few different stories, centered around the same characters and one that was hugely successful with yours truly. However, this one just didn't have the same success with me and I was left scratching my head & asking the question: "What's the point?" On one hand, you could say that the movie is about Mike's journey to find his mother, with Scott as his tag along, however, that particular storyline doesn't really get going until about halfway into the film and really doesn't define the picture. Other sources say it's simply a take on a few Shakespearean tales, however, that's not really what it's about, is it? THE BOOK notes that it's simply a poetic version of filmmaking, with pictures & images that are just as important as the words. Yeah, that doesn't quite work for me. I'm a man who needs a good, solid story to attach myself to, or I just can't get into it.

It's not that it was all bad. It's hard to ignore Van Sant's style and the movie just feels and even looks like something that should be brilliant. However, under closer observation, it just isn't. Most will point to fantastic acting from a before his time River Phoenix and a never better Keanu Reeves, but I have to disagree. I wasn't crazy about Phoenix and more often than not I thought Reeves was overacting and I never once bought him as a serious actor. The boys were decent at best, but certainly nothing worth writing home about, in this reviewers eyes. I hope that by committing my thoughts to this blog, I'll now remember that I just don't care too much for "My Own Private Idaho". It's one of those films that, prior to this, I'd always tend to forget why I didn't like it and need to rewatch it to find out. The final verdict points to a movie without a definitive plot and something that just isn't as special as others make it out to be.

RATING: 5.5/10  I was gonna go '6', but I think even that might be too high. It's worth noting that this was yet another one from the Netflix wait list, that happened to become available.


February 4, 2014  12:22pm


  1. This one is high in the 'I really must watch this again'. It was one i claimed as a tick as I'd seen it before I started ticking, but said I could have as I clearly remembered it.
    That must make this.. ohhhh.. about 15 years ago I saw it. I still reckon I remember most of it, but I'd like some of the finer points refreshing - especially the referencing / parallel-ing it makes of Shakespeare's 'Henry IV'
    (side track.. Andrew, cast your mind back to one I seem to recall you didn't like.. 'Chimes at Midnight'
    Scott is the young prince hall who seems to be running wild and not settling down to his future responsibilities as King/Head of the firm. he mixes with a bunch of low-life thieves, pimps, hookers etc led by charismatic, overweight character Falstaff / Bob.. In the end Hal / Scott accepts responsibility and rejects / betrays his youthful so called friends).
    But this as a film in it's own right..
    I think the overacting charge bears two views. As a bit in a modern film, it most certainly is, and comes over all weird.. but that is him/his character trying to look/sound classical Shakespearean. Sort of driving the reference point home... But in doing so you lose contact with most of the audience other than those who 'get it'? Could well be...
    So obviously this leaves MOPI wide open to charges of being pretentious.. of being a bit smug and self congratulatory.
    Ah the eternal dilemma of discussing films that are not just about blowing things up...

    1. This one seems to have that "saw it, but can't remember if I liked it or disliked it" quality, as I somehow always remembered this one as something that I liked, yet everytime I saw it, I didn't like it. Hopefully now that I've written some of my thoughts down, I'll remember them.

  2. Andrew.. re the 'Man of Iron' thing.. please remind me what region playing facilities you have?
    My immediate thought was I could help.. but looking through my collection, I only have 'man of marble' (Which, for me, was the tricky one to get).
    Man of iron is easily available on R2 dvd, and fairly cheaply, In fact I'm sure 'Love film' will rent it. (I think that was how I saw mine.. I had to buy 'Marble' on import)
    R1 s are out there on both Amazon and Ebay. but more expensive.
    I will ask around to see what I can find.. but let me know if a R2 would be any use...

    1. I actually found it last night online, so all is well. Thank you very much though Ray and for future reference, I can only play Region 1


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