River Phoenix‘s portrayal of Mike, a solitary, narcoleptic street hustler searching for his long-lost mother is not only brilliant, it’s his finest performance. Keanu Reeves gives strong support as the slumming Scott, his beautiful but shallow straight friend and the unresponsive object of Mike’s love. The nighttime desert scene in which Phoenix professes his love for Reeves (partially improvised by Phoenix) is both a heartbreaking and startlingly perfect moment in gay film-making.
My Own Private Idaho is a tender, knowing look at life on the streets (complete with drug-addled messes and sleazy trickings) and even incorporates a bit of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” into the fold. Dreamily photographed and with mood ranging from hilarious to tragic to highly erotic, the film is a modern gay classic.
The Criterion Collection, well awake of its value, still offers a glorious collector’s edition – featuing a restored 4K digital transfer, approved by director Gus Van Sant and director of photography Eric Alan Edward. The amazing set also includes an illustrated 2005 audio conversation between Van Sant and filmmaker Todd Haynes; The Making of “My Own Private Idaho,” a 2005 documentary featuring cast and crew; Kings of the Road, a 2005 interview with film scholar Paul Arthur on Van Sant’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight; A conversation from 2005 between producer Laurie Parker and actor River Phoenix’s sister Rain; deleted scenes; the original theatrical trailer; a book featuring essays by film critic Amy Taubin; a 1991 article by Lance Loud; and reprinted interviews with Van Sant, Phoenix and Keanu Reeves. The most interesting supplemental inclusion may be from essays and interviews from “JT Leroy,” added before he was exposed as the fictitious alter-ego of author Laura Albert (but that’s a whole different rabbit hole).