My Own Private Idaho (1991) Poster

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. This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world.
BratBoy-29 July 1999
This movie isn't about being, or even about being a hustler. "My Own Private Idaho" is about finding a home. In his finest performance, River Phoenix plays Mike, a narcoleptic street hustler with false memories of a terrific childhood. Mike wants to find his mother and family, but how or why he left them is never discussed. This is a movie that shows life at the lowest rung, and is very similar to Kerouac's "On the Road" and especially John Rechy's "City of Night." (In fact the line about becoming a fairy is straight from "City of Night"). Mike and Scott (Keanu Reeves) are both male prostitutes in Oregon. Why either of them have drifted into this profession is anyone's guess. Scott is clearly not gay, but Mike might be and their relationship is what holds the movie together. The film works on many levels, but does have its flaws. It's faux-Shakespearen scenes make the film drag in the middle. Van Sant directed the movie like a dream, which is what Mike's life basically is.

This is a haunting and very sad tale about friendship and finding a home. The performances, especially Phoenix and Udo Kier and Van Sant's dream-like direction are what you remember. "My Own Private Idaho" may be a flawed film, but in my opinion, it is one of the very best of the '90's.
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10/10
Odd, touching, River Phoenix is intensely brilliant..
xokatyxo10 June 2001
This is the movie that I sincerely hope River Phoenix will long be remembered for. His performance as the narcoleptic and confused street-hustler Mike is so perfect and touching and realistic that it makes me cry every time. Gus Van Sant's films often have a strange aura about them (see Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For) and never has it been more evident than in this oddly affecting road movie/drama. The camera shots of long horizon-spanning roads and skylines, fast-motion clouds, surreal and symbolic shots of houses and rushing rivers provide the film with a strange almost other-worldly charm. Interspersed with the gritty realism of life on the streets of Portland Oregon in the early 90's, and (stranger still) Shakespeare. Some of the plot (Bob and Scott mainly) is based on the Shakespeare play Henry IV (with Keanu Reeves playing the Prince Hal character of Scott, and William Richert playing the Falstaff-like role of "King-Of-The-Streets" Bob.) It's a fascinating, touching and very successful blend of styles overall. The big themes (the search for love and belonging) are conveyed in a very interesting and genuinely moving manner. I particularly enjoyed the symbolism and pathos the film flittingly suggests. The performances are uniformly excellent, and this movie remains one of my all-time favourites. One of the greatest (and most unique) indie movies of the 1990's.
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An odd but compelling film
keanufan4327 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Like others, I had heard about this film, but had never seen it because it can be hard to locate. Finally I rented it from an independent video store.

I am not familiar with the body of River Phoenix's work, but his performance was outstanding in this film. This makes his untimely death even more tragic.

The film has its merits and shortcomings. The Shakespearen references are unexpected, and I agree with others that they don't exactly "work". They seem too forced. But they do add an interesting texture to the film, elevating it above "just another social commentary".

Keanu's performance isn't as flat as others may lead you to believe -- it's not bad, but it probably could have been better. I think that, now that he is more mature, he is coming into his prime as an actor. In this film, he was still rather young, and for some reason it's hard to take him seriously. Keanu doesn't quite make the transformation that his character requires. River Phoenix, on the other hand, is entirely believable, if not inspired.

The film is an allegory for a lot of things. Mostly I see it as a commentary on the basic human needs for love and home. Keanu's character can go home any time he wants. River's character is searching for the ghost home of his heart; a home he will never find on a road which never ends.

It's an odd film, and not everyone would enjoy it or "get" it. But if you're looking for something different, thought-provoking, and of course, want to see Reeves and Phoenix (not to mention Flea), then take a look.
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10/10
A triumph of pathos and bitter poetry
Asa_Nisi_Masa210 March 2005
I adore this movie, have owned it on VHS long before there was anything else and have seen it an insane number of times. It isn't perfect, but with me personally, though I'm a European female and thus have no personal life experience that could resemble anything the main characters go through, it struck a chord of universality that made it heart-breaking. The pathos in it, the bitter poetry, the warped magic is just unbelievably beautiful... and painful. It is visually inventive and the casting - even Keanu Reeves's, which has been so often criticised - is top-notch. Reeves's character is a flippant, spoilt young man who goes through life acting in his own self-glorifying drama: what better actor to cast in that role than someone whose acting is so contrived? And Phoenix... well, what can I say... to me, this is THE River Phoenix role, the one that can single-handedly turn him into an immortal, a legend. The Shakespearian quotations I adored: the relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff from Henry IV, Part II is among the most mesmerising of the Bard's dramatic repertoire - that play was like an emotional earthquake to me. My Own Private Idaho caught its spirit perfectly, and translated it into a context that was original in its own right yet more faithful to Shakespeare in feeling than a more literal transposition might have been. Also, I found the portrayal of Rome in the part in which River's character goes out there to search for his mother, refreshingly true to life and totally cliché-free. As an Italian from Rome, it's very rare that I see a non-Italian film portraying my city of origin with so much authenticity. The FEEL of the place at a given time - the late 80s - was spot-on. In conclusion: to me, not only was My Own Private Idaho one of the best adaptations of (at least parts) of a Shakespeare play that I've seen, but also a tragedy of almost Shakespearian intensity in its own right. It had it all: the unhealthy, consuming passion (the fatal flaw), the power struggles, the young heir in his reckless, youthful days eventually maturing into the arrogance of the privileged (Keanu), the parental ghost that one of the protagonists looks to as his prophetic voice, the voice that may give his life a meaning (River's search for and the flashbacks to the memory of his mother), the intense pathos throughout, the tragic deaths at the end... that film is just pure magic to me! Just writing about it makes me want to see it again - what, for the 20th time or something?! And the tragedy at My Own Private Idaho's core is so universal, it really becomes completely secondary whether it's about and between men, women, homosexuals or heterosexuals.
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"Wherever, whatever, have a nice day, River Phoenix"
I watched this film on TV 5 years ago, when I was only eleven years old, and I remember that I was especially impressed by River Phoenix's magnificent performance. I had already watched "Stand By Me" (one of my favorites), and it was very interesting to watch him older in such a daring film. I think he was the best actor of his generation but, unfortunately, he died too young. His film legacy and his magnificent aura, however, live on forever.

"My Own Private Idaho" is a poetic and bittersweet road movie, and Van Sant's masterpiece. Here in Brazil it received a bad title, "Garotos de Programa" (literally, "Rent Boys"). Yes, the main characters are rent boys, but this is not what defines them. "My Own Private Idaho" (what a beautiful title!) mostly deals with loneliness, virile sexuality and friendship, and paternity. It's much more than "a film about rent boys". Besides, by watching it my contemporaries will realize that Keanu Reeves isn't Neo from "The Matrix", but a versatile actor; and, perhaps, they'd discover that friendship - and romantic love - between two men can be truly sincere. 10/10.
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Astonishing, haunting...
rick_722 June 2003
Warning: Spoilers
*VERY MINOR SPOILERS*

My Own Private Idaho is a sublime drama focusing on the relationship between two rent boys in Portland, Oregon. Phoenix (in career-best form) plays Mike, a narcoleptic, quiet homosexual searching for his mother. Reeves, inevitably overshadowed by his outrageously,talented co-star, is Scott, the son of the Mayor, slumming it as a hustler. Based on Shakespeare's Henry IV, the cast and director make bold and brilliant use of the play, playing fast and loose with the rules and the dialogue and creating a glorious, freeform odyssey of expression and discovery. Noted independent director William Richert is marvellous as Bob (the Falstaff figure), with Udo Kier, Flea, Rodney Harvey and Chiara Caselli rounding out an outrageous supporting cast.

Brilliantly acted and directed, with fine use of colour, recurring motifs and bold credits, Idaho possesses a rare, dream-like quality. The music too is perfectly chosen, and complements the magical dialogue perfectly. You'll never listen to The Pogues' "Old Main Drag" without thinking of this movie and of its central figure: of Phoenix appearing from left of frame with only a black bag and a stopwatch ... of the fireside scene, and of the final line. Added to that, it's funnier than most comedies - River's simple "Thanks" when his pleading with a fat naked man finally gets him ten more dollars, the sight of our hero hurdling fences as Reeves tells a policeman: "I guess he doesn't like cops", and the superb, absurdist dialogue by the fire - and exists as one of the most honest and moving depictions of love ever seen on the screen. Delightfully, Idaho remains a film that polarises audiences: it will either go straight into your Top 10 or your dustbin after you've finished it, though you must see it, to decide where you stand. Whether you love it or despise it, you will never, EVER forget it.

Haunting, affecting, funny and wise, Idaho simply works on every level.
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Updated Henry IV
BridgetMarie7718 May 2000
Gus Van Sant, truly one of the best directors in this century, has a visionary eye that enables audiences to see life in a different/new way. In this case he takes Henry IV- usually overshadowed by Henry V, and turns it in to a heart wrenching tale that modern audiences can appreciate. The visual pictures that get layered on and on and on our eyeballs are like dance steps carefully plotted. The use of lesser known actors is refreshing, and the chemistry between River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves is overwhelming. This is a must see for any lover of independent films, for any person tired of predictable plots, or for anyone who wants to open their heart to vulnerable characters and love them. This movie gets you involved.
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10/10
My Own Private Idaho
jazzpiano-5 December 2007
Mike (River Phoenix) has narcolepsy, and whenever he feels super-stressed he suffers what I interpret to be attacks of cataplexy, that is, sleep triggered by heightened emotions. His friend, would-be lover and fellow male prostitute, Scott (Keanu Reeves), has a rich dad who's going to leave him a hefty sum when he turns 21. These two characters are the main focus of "My Own Private Idaho" which deals with common and uncommon themes, such as home, sexual identity and love. Van Sant throws in some Shakespearean language plagiarised straight from Henry IV and a non-linear narrative and you've got one very cute surrealist indie film.

The credits to this film are it's director and star, River Phoenix, whose understated and moving performance lifts this film above the trash it easily could've been in another director or actor's hands. Van Sant uses symbols to represent emotional states and his use of special effects is limited and effective. There is some really heartfelt dialogue in this movie, especially the much-mentioned camp-fire scene.

This film can be irritating; sometimes the Shakespearean dialogue doesn't work (and it's okay to admit that a near-perfect film like this has flaws) and Reeves is sometimes a little stiff. The film is mostly redeemed by its bitter-sweet ending and fun opening titles.

I'm not going to tackle any issues in this film because I just don't have the energy. Just appreciate the film for what it is and have a nice day. :)
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10/10
The road of life
thornyqueen173 April 2001
My opinion is that 'My own private Idaho' is a masterpiece! Gus van Sant did a great job and created a very artistic movie with many truths about life.Both River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves give wonderful performances.I read some other comments too on this board and I have to say that the story, is not only about 2 male prostitutes that sell their bodies for the money.Try to catch that underlying message that each viewer interprets it in his own way.In the way HE feels it.The movie gets really sad at the end but it makes you realize a lot of things.In this road of life that "...goes around the world..." you get hurt, betrayed, you believe, you hope, you pay, you earn, you lose, you win...that road never ends.
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4/10
Uneven, uncertain, untenable
wisewebwoman24 December 2006
I had heard some good recommendations on this film but am lost as to why the overall rating (6.9) on IMDb is so high. Am I missing something?

I watched the whole movie intently, even though my attention was flagging a lot. Those long (metaphoric?) cloud scenes with houses falling apart, reminiscent to me of the Kansas tornado in the Wizard of Oz, lonely stretches of road reminding the protagonist (over and over) of a face, yeah we get it, we don't care. And on. River Phoenix, in the lead playing Mike, is remarkable and eerie too - so much of James Dean in him, the short intense and talented life.

This is loosely based on Shakespeare's Henry IV part one, and it transfers huge chunks of the play into the movie script, some of it sounding forced and odd. An experiment that for me, fell flat on its face.

Keanu Reeves, playing Scott, plays a street hustler in an act of rebellion against his father the mayor of the town. He befriends Mike, a narcoleptic prostitute who falls asleep on the job all the time, and who to all intents and purposes falls in love with him. They go on a road trip to find River's mother who abandoned him when he was small.

The details of Mike's parentage are appalling and the road trip takes them to a rather weird Italy and then back again to the streets where Scott turns his back on his old ways, abandoning Mike.

Uneven and actually frustrating, the dialogue was very muddy and hard to understand at times and the shifting of script from modern to Shakespeare not successful.

4 out of 10. Could be to some tastes, but not to mine.
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5/10
You're getting sleepy...
Oliver-5015 October 2005
I'm not quite sure what to make of 'My Own Private Idaho.' I am aware of it's huge cult following and that makes me want to like it more than I did, or at least give some thought as to why I didn't think as highly of it as many others did.

Gus Van Sant is a hit or miss director - Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For, and Good Will Hunting were all excellent, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and his Psycho remake were horrendous - and I hate to say that I'm leaning more towards the miss column with 'My Own Private Idaho.' The best way I can put this film is that it seems like there are too many cooks making the soup and all the ingredients have been served better. Van Sant wants to make this a road movie, a comedy, a coming-of-age movie, a Shakespeare play, a surreal picture... I feel like he's taken the best elements of 'Easy Rider', 'Pixote', and 'Henry V' and mangled them.

River Phoenix is excellent though, he's the best part of the film and I give the credit solely to him. Why? Because ever other performance just isn't very good. Reeves seems uncomfortable in almost every scene whether it's quoting Shakespeare or lying shirtless in bed with Phoenix, he can't pull off what this movie wants. Neither can Richert as the leader of the band of hustlers - who comes across so over the top and theatrical that as a contrast to Phoenix's mellow/realistic hustler it just doesn't work. The problem with taking dialogue straight from Henry IV is for one it's awfully hard to top the Bard for writing. Two; you need actors who can deliver it well.

Van Sant has imagination and the visuals in the film are breathtaking. The movie starts off extremely well, but it's obvious that he had little control of the script or the actors and in the end that kills the movie.

Very surprising that Phoenix didn't pick up an Oscar nomination.
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10/10
River Runs Wild Forever
phillyxoxo31 October 2005
"My Own Private Idaho" is the movie, in my opinion, that showed the true talent of River Phoenix. I was sitting on the couch one night flipping through the channels and saw that River was in it and I thought "Why not? Hes a good actor". This movie absolutely blew me away. Its this sad and heartful story abut a young boy who is abandoned and is thrown into a life he never should of fathomed of having. He has to sell him self just to get a meal. This movie has touched so many hearts and inspires so many!! River isn't the only great actor, Keanu Reeves does a wonderful supportive job. His character is a rebel against his political dad (trying to make him look bad...typical teenager!!). His and River's paths of live cross and they become traveling buddies!!Its a movie that you'll never forget and i think it becomes more powerful as the years go on. I have to say, movie lovers really do miss River Phoenix. He was a great person and hopefully he adchieved all that he wanted to.
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1/10
Absolute rubbish posing as art
Rooster9915 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This film is almost impossible to watch, and will only be praised by either jaded film critics or people feigning artistic understanding. I suspect the only reason this film has any following at all is that it doesn't follow the typical path to tell its story, rather it is a mishmash of disjointed images strung together with "Theatre of the Absurd" dialog. It is incredibly boring, pretentious, and fantastically frustrating. It also throws the whoring homosexual lifestyle of two losers back in your face, daring you to criticize the movie and thus be branded a homophobe. What an incredible waste of time.

I am sure film critics everywhere are raving about this (no doubt) Cannes Film Festival fodder, however that just shows you that existential film making is still only the darling of the festival circuit. It is yet another in a long list of "if you didn't understand my movie, you are a plebeian" pet projects from a director throwing nonsensical moments together and pretending they have meaning. Ho hum, what tripe.
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10/10
My Own Private River
adavegarcia28 July 2005
For many of us - Idaho - changed everything. I was still in High School when the movie came out and, like so many of you; I was never the same again. However great the script and direction, the lighting and camera shots, (motorcycle scene and campfire to name a few) there is no doubt that this is River's movie. No disrespect to Van Sant or anyone involved. I realize the movie would not be the same or nearly as perfect without them - particularly Gus. The truth is, however, River made this movie everything to us. Never has a movie touched us so deeply or any one person's unrequited love so deeply resonated. I think I can safely say that I was not the only teenager in the world whom would have given anything to be in the camp fire scene with River. In reality though you know? No movies, no actors, no props or fake lights and as far away from Hollywood as possible. Simply, River and me alone by a fire a million miles away from fear.
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1/10
tedious, mind-numbing nonsense
DavidBrent2229 July 2009
This film was so uninteresting from the start. It's about two gay losers who also seem to be rent boys who get involved with drugs and can't stop taking them, they waste their lives and one of them played by Keanu Reeves has some sort of bizarre, incestuous relationship with his dad. This movie is awfully hard to figure out as it just shows the drug-addled losers lazing around different apartments all the time wasted on drugs and booze. Are we supposed to care about these characters and their story? They don't seem to come across as particularly pleasant people even before they start their road to ruin.

For the most part this movie has lots of odd scenes thrown together purporting to lead somewhere, only they never do. There are way too many characters besides River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves and not one of them is developed beyond a couple of lines of mawkish dialogue or arouses even a bit of interest. In the end this movie ends how it started with one of the gay chaps passed out on the floor. One to avoid, really.
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Under-rated
scr1ve25 July 2001
I watched this film because I enjoyed Drugstore Cowboy and To Die For. As this film was also made by Van Sant before he fell off and made Good Will Hunting and psycho- I was looking forward to an off-kilter ride through rent-boy land. What I got was in fact one of my favourite films, and certainly one of the most under-rated American independent films in recent history.

My Own Private Idaho has a kind of grimy transcendentalism that almost touches wong-kar-wai territory. The camera swaggers and frames with a touch that the cameraman must have been born with- the exposure always beautiful. Top marks to the DOP. Another revelation is the dialogue- sometimes playing on the Shakespearian themes that riddle the plot- itself sometimes works its way into a psuedo Shakespearian grandeur (look at the scenes with Bob in them). Another touch is the acting- fantastic performances from all concerned especially as it has been noted before River P. But lets not forget Reeves here- he also plays a fantastic part.

But please, regardless of what I have just said- please do not expect much (as I did not) and then you may emerge from the viewing amazed and glad that you had dedicated your time to this gifted film-maker (like I did).
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7/10
poetic and beautiful, if a bit too avant-garde Warning: Spoilers
In a very un-epic way, this movie really gets to the heart of the loneliness at the center of our being. Somebody described it as "tender but never sentimental" which I think describes it perfectly. It tells the story of two teenage hustlers at a specific period in their lives. Mike (River Phoenix) is somewhat of an enigma. He is dreamy, gentle, and in love with his best friend. He is also, unfortunately, a narcoleptic, and is obsessed with finding his long-lost mother. Scott (Keanu Reeves) is his best friend, who is a rich boy and only prostitutes himself as a way to be rebellious and humiliate his father. A plot is somewhat secondary, since the movie is about the inner lives of its two main characters (given Reeves' acting talent, more like one main character) but there are a few points I will mention...an older homeless guy named Bob is also in love with Scott, although it's more of a father/son thing. In the scenes with Bob, Shakespearian dialogue straight out of Henry IV is used - and unfortunately, the story has the same turnout: Scott (Henry) comes into his fortune and reforms himself, refusing to associate with any of his old friends, and ultimately breaking Bob's (Falstaff's) heart in two, and he dies. Kenneth Branaugh pulled Henry off pretty well, in part because Henry's motives are unselfish (good of the country) whereas Scott is only concerned with money and himself. When Scott and Mike go to Italy to try and find Mike's mom, she's long gone, but Scott falls in love with an Italian girl ("Sorry Mike!") and abandons his friend to a life of prostitution, completely alone. By the end of the movie, Scott is in a three-piece suit and Mike is fast asleep in the middle of a road in Idaho. The film does a great job portraying the unending loneliness in our souls that we attempt to break up by human relationships that never end up meaning anything. Every man is an island. It also conveys a sense of there only being the past - the future never seems to enter Mike's consciousness. Overall wonderful, although uneven and slow in parts. River Phoenix is not a great actor, but he was much better than I expected him to be. He seems like he's from another planet, but he's so sweet all the time and never seems to have any hatred in him - not even when Scott deserts him. He does a great job portraying the painful plight of the gay best friend...and the guy who played Bob was also pretty good. Not Keanu, though. Scott is supposed to undergo pretty radical character development, but Reeves just goes on AutoKeanu which really isn't too exciting to watch, all considered.
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2/10
You gotta be kidding
bernie-1221 January 2008
I honestly expected some sort of groundbreaking experience out of this; I mean, anything with that many 9-star ratings would just have to be worthwhile, wouldn't it? Nope.

I was mostly interested in this film because I haven't seen that much of River's stuff and I wanted to see if he was all he was hyped up to be. With that much I can agree. He was a natural, something like Johnny Depp; he would be good in just about anything.

Every time I see Keanu Reeves in a film, I shake my head and wonder what sort of slimy nepotic mechanism put him on the big screen, and how many people with actual talent he displaced. Putting him next to somebody like River, who really does know how to act, just magnifies his wooden emptiness.

Unfortunately, this film is much too overpoweringly pretentious to be saved by a hundred River Phoenixes or Johnny Depps. I don't know who Mr. Van Sant thought he was fooling (no, wait, look at all the "9" reviews). This film would be praised by people who think it's probably deep and meaningful and artistic, therefore it's probably really good. The same people who buy Playboy for the articles and leave a few (unread) New Yorkers lying around the living room for visitors to see.

Ersatz art imitating faux erudition. Beautifully photographed banality. A triumph of style over substance. If that's your cup of tea, then you'll love this.
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3/10
much ado about nothing
mjneu5913 December 2010
A narcoleptic hustler and his 'degenerate' (to his father) pal travel the Pacific Northwest in search of…what? Freedom? Affection? Adventure? Gus Van Sant's follow up to his career breakthrough 'Drugstore Cowboy' is full odd stylistic tics and transparent social commentary, all of it adding up to a merely pretentious film even more aimless and unmotivated than its two primary characters. Viewers might be forgiven for wondering where the story is going after the brief detour into Idaho itself (the trailer home reunion is a highlight), when the scene shifts abruptly, and for no good reason, to sunny Rome (yes, in Italy). There's plenty to look at, but all the gorgeous imagery hides a shortage of real ideas, and Van Sant's mock Shakespearean dialogue is an annoying conceit (at least the Bard is acknowledged in the credits). Udo Kier, as 'Hans', steals the film away from its two young stars, and the brief documentary appearance of actual teenage hustlers discussing their 'dates' shows what the film could have aspired to.
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4/10
Gets boring as it progresses
KineticSeoul15 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of those movies that starts off promising but as it progresses it just gets weird and bizarre but just not in a good way. It had my interest at first with the introduction of the characters but after the introductions and a bit of bonding between two characters it just got boring. I think the part I lost interest is when River Phoenix's character is visiting his dad in a trailer. It's basically a depressing and bitter road movie about two gay or bisexual male prostitutes on a road trip. Because they both have mother and father issues that they have to deal with. I give River Phoenix's character some sympathy but not so much for Keanu's character. Maybe because one is more in a rut than the other. And none of the characters are likable in this movie, which is fine since when it comes to the tragedy. It didn't get all that depressing. But the relationship and bonding between these two characters played by River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves seemed authentic. Maybe because they were friends in real life. It's somewhat of a artsy flick and it's watchable but just didn't really entertain me or got my interest. It got weird and some of the characters gets pretty darn bizarre. But I guess it somewhat adds to the realism to a degree. This is the first movie I seen with River Phoenix and he basically owns this character. But maybe that is cause there is quite a lot of himself in this character. And Keanu...Well I never found the guy to be a brilliant actor. But he is somewhat versatile and fits right in usually with the role he is in. Overall, this movie through me off guard but not really in a good way. Plus I couldn't connect with any of the characters at all, although that may seem a bit conceited on my part.

4.6/10
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Abandonment, American Style
Lechuguilla22 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Two young men living in the Pacific Northwest explore personal relationships, and search for meaning in life, in this American art house film from Director Gus Van Sant. Depth of characterization is the story's strength.

The protagonist is a narcoleptic young street hustler named Mike (River Phoenix), who suffers from uncontrollable seizures. Mike feels abandoned by his family, and alienated from society in general. His close friend is Scotty (Keanu Reeves), the son of a wealthy big city mayor. Scotty resents his father's power over the less fortunate in society. Together, Mike and Scotty gravitate to a bohemian lifestyle, living among urban street people. The film's theme is one of lonesome abandonment. The tone is depressing.

As the story moves into the second Act, the film takes an unfortunate turn. The leader of the street people, a character named Bob (William Richert), takes center stage, thus shifting the focus away from Mike and Scotty. Bob and his band of impoverished gypsies, which include Mike and Scotty, live in a dilapidated old downtown building. Here, they romp and stomp, do drugs and, led by the annoyingly Shakespearean Bob, go through contrived experiences in a way that is irritatingly theatrical. The dialogue is very talky.

Later, the focus shifts back to Mike and Scotty, as the two travel to France in search of Mike's long lost mother. It's an odyssey that brings them back to America, and eventually to the lonesome, wide-open prairies of Idaho. The story's ending is extremely depressing.

The film's cinematography is excellent. River Phoenix gives a terrific performance. And the music enhances a downbeat mood. Despite a wayward middle Act, "My Own Private Idaho" is worth watching. It has a lot to say about contemporary American values, rendered ironic and even more poignant, given the tragic death of River Phoenix.
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1/10
Horrid waste of time
DisneyDana26 April 2014
I like all sorts of films be it blockbuster or indie and this movie was just pitiful. Why anyone would want to star in a movie with Keanu Reeves and his stellar acting skills is beyond me. Quite possibly one of the worst, most pointless movies I've ever seen. I was intrigued after reading, "Last Night at the Viper Room" to see some of River's movies other than "Stand By Me" because I'm convinced he was going to be one of the greats. His acting is the only good thing about this movie. I wish I would have counted how many times I had to pause this movie to go and do other things. It didn't hold my interest in the least. I should have known when I saw that Flea was making an attempt at acting in this that it was in no way a serious film. The strangely posed sex scenes were nothing but corny. You'll catch yourself rolling your eyes quite often. I was hoping for a good film, even something artistic but instead I got bizarre, and trying too hard.
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8/10
River Phoenix is excellent, as is the film.
Indie_Locker13 July 2013
Gus Van Sant has always been an interesting filmmaker. He cares about character and story and through the process, his artistic integrity is able to shine through his work and that is why he's considered a prominent director in independent cinema. My Own Private Idaho is more of is more well known independent features and is often viewed as a triumph of independent cinema from the 1990s.

The film follows Mark Waters (River Phoenix) an aimless, misguided young man who hustles on the streets and is yearning to find his way in life. His best friend is Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), who is also a young man and and a hustler, but who instead is running away from his life in the hope of finding something better. Scott comes from a lot of wealth but chooses not to live that lifestyle because when he's this young and wild, he just doesn't believe that its right for him.

However the film is centered around Mark, who is played with such brutal honestly by the late River Phoenix. River is completely dedicated to the character and brings a wonderful vulnerability to a lost soul and it makes him relatable. We watch him go from scene to scene, leaving us as unaware of his future as he is. We watch him make many mistakes and we want him to better himself but such a task is not easy. Because that's the way life is.

Mark hustles because its just who he is. We don't know how he got here, but we know that he has fallen into this lifestyle and it has consumed him. He needs the money. All of his friends are hustlers, too. He has dreams but its tough to say if he ever truly wants to leave the lifestyle. It seems that getting clients and often falling asleep during it (due to him being narcoleptic) doesn't seem to take as much of a toll on him as does his thoughts about his mother, or his feelings for his best friend.

Gus Van Sant crafts a very fine film here that focuses on such a lifestyle that we're not exposed to in our every day lives and turns it into something we can all relate to. It all comes back to that road, the road that we're all on. Does it really end? Probably not. Much like in the way that Mark is shown standing on that road, staring out into the nothingness. Its really about our lives. We live and we're happy, and we're sad, and we're lonely, and we're lost, and we've found ourselves, all of these things happen on the very same road that never ends.
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9/10
The magic of River Phoenix mixed with the brilliance of Gus Vant Sant.
eileen_858 February 2009
There are very few movies that makes us wish we had never seen it in the first place. My Own Private Idaho falls under the same category, except, its the overwhelming sadness which engulfs us as the movie ends which makes us feel that way.

Calling Gus Van Sant's My own private Idaho, a bold and imaginative film, would be an understatement. The only other film of Gus Vant Sant's that I had watched was Good will hunting and Psycho, the latter of which was more of a travesty than a remake. But I had always liked Good Will Hunting and thought it reflected his ingenuity as a director. But after watching My own private Idaho, Good Will Hunting seems to pale in comparison.

My own private Idaho cannot be described in one review. It cannot even be fully appreciated in one viewing. Van Sant explores a plethora of motifs and manages to mold them together to show us the universal meaning of 'home' and how it differs with respect to each character.

To Mike, home is where his mother is. As a result he spends the entire film searching for her, for which he is even willing to travel all the way to Italy. But sadly, Mike has a highly sublime image of his mother and his childhood, which are both nothing but a faux fantasy that he holds onto . To Scott however, home is just another word in the dictionary. He's the truant son of a rich Mayor and thus feels compelled to rebel. This takes him to the streets of Portland where he takes up the vocation of a gay prostitute, which is where he meets Mike, a fellow hustler. Scott is loosely based on Prince Hal, the son of the king in Shakespeare's Henry IV.

Mike is also narcoleptic, a condition of the brain which causes the person to suddenly fall into brief intervals of sleep. This makes Mike's story even more sad as he has no means to support himself and thus finds himself getting picked up by strangers and waking up in different parts of the country.

However, Scott is the only one who seems to take care of Mike when he needs him the most, something which gives way for a strong friendship which develops between the two and as the movie progresses, a romantic affection on Mikes part. Together they embark on a journey to find Mike's mother, which takes them from the grimy streets of Portland to the magniloquent structures of Rome.

There are lots of things that strike you as odd when watching this movie, Van Sant goes as far as he can in breaking the traditional norms of movie making. The best example being how the dialogues between the hustlers are in Shakespearian prose. I am not sure whether it works well for the movie though. But it does provide for some interesting viewing, especially if you're bored with the clichéd mainstream presentation of plot points and dialogues.

The movie is without doubt a visual treat. Its cinematography brightens up the film with its astounding imagery of the long sky engulfing roads and clever shots of the clouds looming above, each time Mike falls asleep. His thoughts while sleeping being described by scenes of salmons jumping upstream.

This would have been just another film, with the audiences admiring the picture for its novelty and brilliance and leaving the theater not wasting another second thinking over what they had seen - if it wasn't for one person. River Phoenix, who plays Mike, literally owns My own private Idaho and this movie wouldn't have been the same without him, no offense to Van Sant .

River doesn't just portray Mike, he is Mike Waters. River plays Mike to perfection. There is a certain rawness to his performance which makes his plight, his sad existence, his unrequited love for Scott and his drug addiction - all the more tragic. Ang lee might have spend millions of dollars in making a gay romance flick like Brokeback mountain, but the five minute conversation that Mike and Scott have during the campfire scene is more touching than the two hour movie could ever hope to be. Mike doesn't have a lot of dialogues but his mere presence touches your soul, as his face wears that constant grief and sadness and with one look at his face you can tell that he is wounded deep down.

It was hard to believe River wasn't nominated for an Oscar for this performance. He did however win numerous accolades, including the best actor at the Venice film festival. Its so hard to accept the fact that he's gone and one wonders, how far he would have gone and how many brilliant performances he could have delivered.

Overall, if you want a movie that makes you think, takes you beyond the usual grasps of reality into transcendentalisms and is quirky and unconventional. But mostly, if you need to watch some great performances, and in River's case, sheer excellence, then this is the movie for you. My own private Idaho can either be loved dearly to the point of obsession or thought of as trite and chucked down the dustbin. Either way, you'll remember the story of Mike Waters and reminisce about him with pain, long after you've seen it.

The movie has its flaws, but at the end of the day when put together, the salmons and clouds do help us in understanding what and how different the term 'home' can be, which is what this movie is essentially about. So my review-o-meter points to a nine out of ten for this bold and piquant masterpiece, that thoroughly deserves its cult status, to which it has been elevated.
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