My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Twenty-nine years ago today, the film My Own Private Idaho premiered at Venice Film Festival. I saw it in the theater back then, I remember when the film crew was around Seattle. I love this film. You have to watch this movie.

Title: My Own Private Idaho
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Produced by: Laurie Parker
Screenplay by: Gus Van Sant
Based on: Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2 by William Shakespeare, Henry V by William Shakespeare
Starring: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves
Music by: Bill Stafford
Cinematography: John J. Campbell, Eric Alan Edwards
Edited by: Curtiss Clayton
Distributed by: Fine Line Features
Release date: September 4, 1991 (Venice), September 29, 1991 (United States)
Running time: 102 minutes
Budget: $2.5 million
Box office: $6.4 million (North America)
Deauville Film Festival Critics Award & Coup de Coeur LTC
Independent Spirit Awards Best Male Lead = River Phoenix, Best Screenplay = Gus Van Sant, & Best Film Music = Bill Stafford
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actor River = Phoenix
Producers Guild of America Awards Most Promising Producer in Theatrical Motion Pictures = Laurie Parker
Toronto International Film Festival International Critics’ Award
Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup for Best Actor River Phoenix

Mike, a street hustler, stands alone on a deserted stretch of highway. He starts talking to himself and notices that the road looks “like someone’s face, like a fucked-up face.” He then experiences a narcoleptic episode and dreams of his mother comforting him as he replays home movies of his childhood in his mind.

Later, after being fellated by a client in Seattle, Mike returns to his favorite spots to pick up more clients. He is picked up by a wealthy older woman who takes him to her mansion, where he finds two fellow hustlers also hired by the woman. One of them is Scott Favor, Mike’s best friend, and the other is Gary. While preparing to have sex with the woman, Mike experiences another narcoleptic fit and awakens the next day with Scott in Portland, Oregon.

Mike and Scott are soon reunited with Bob Pigeon, a middle-aged mentor to a gang of street kids and hustlers who live in an abandoned apartment building. Scott, the son of the mayor of Portland, admits to Bob in private that when he turns 21, he will inherit his father’s fortune and retire from street hustling. Meanwhile, Mike yearns to find his mother, so he and Scott leave for Idaho to visit Mike’s older brother, Richard. Along this journey Mike confesses that he is in love with Scott, who gently reminds him he only sleeps with men for money. While visiting in his trailer, Richard tries to tell Mike who his real father is, but Mike says that he knows it is Richard. Richard tells Mike that their mother works as a hotel maid; when Mike and Scott visit the hotel, they find she has gone to Italy in search of her own family. At the hotel, they meet Hans, the man who drove them to Portland, and prostitute themselves to him.

With the money they received from Hans, Mike and Scott travel to Italy. They find the country farmhouse where Mike’s mother worked as a maid and an English tutor. The young woman, Carmela, who lives there, tells Mike that his mother returned to the United States months ago. Carmela and Scott fall in love and return to the U.S., leaving Mike to return there on his own, broken-hearted. Scott’s father dies, and Scott inherits his fortune.

Back in Portland, Bob and his gang confront a newly reformed Scott at a fashionable restaurant, but he rejects them. That night Bob has a fatal heart attack. The next day the hustlers hold a rowdy funeral for Bob, while in the same cemetery, a few yards away, Scott attends a solemn funeral for his father. At the end of the film, Mike is back on the deserted stretch of the Idaho highway. After he falls into another narcoleptic stupor, two strangers pull up in a truck, take his backpack and shoes, and drive away. Moments later, an unidentified figure pulls up in a car, picks the unconscious Mike up, places him in the vehicle and drives away.

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