Gus Van Sant is a director whose films have brought about a very polarizing response among audiences, particularly his independent ventures. I myself have a love-hate relationship with his films but I’ll admit I hate more than I love. My Own Private Idaho came out in 1991, the film was Van Sant’s third feature film at the time and the film follows the story of two hustlers, Mike Waters (River Phoenix), a guy hustler afflicted with narcolepsy and Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), the rebellious son of a mayor. Together, the two travel from Portland, Oregon to Idaho and finally to the coast of Italy in a quest to find Mike’s estranged mother. Along the way they turn tricks for money and drugs, eventually attracting the attention of a wealthy benefactor and sexual deviant.
One of the qualities of Van Sant’s film-making is that he isn’t afraid to bring his vision to the screen nor is he afraid to explore challenging and bold subject matters as he does in this film. That said, his vision doesn’t agree with everyone, and I am one of those people. I found My Own Private Idaho to be a tedious and extremely pretentious film. The script is loaded with Shakespearean dialogue which makes the film unnecessarily difficult to understand. Furthermore, the film is filled with excesses, like dream sequences with inane symbolism that drag on forever and contribute very little to the story. Keanu Reeves delivers a wooden performance, it’s pretty clear to me that he was cast on his looks rather than his acting. River Phoenix is good, but can’t carry the movie on his own shoulders. However, the thing that annoyed me most about this movie, was definitely Van Sant’s direction. As I mentioned before, it’s filled with excesses and pretensions and a story that goes nowhere. Van Sant’s direction hit me as vapid and soulless.
All in all, My Own Private Idaho is a pretentious and self-indulgent film from Gus Van Sant that in my opinion is right up there with Psycho and Last Days as one of his worst directorial efforts, not to mention it’s a bad version of Midnight Cowboy- not that, that was particularly great either- It’s poorly paced, drags on consistently and above all is boring and coma-inducing dull. 105 minutes of run-time feel like an hour more. Watch it if you’re a fan of Van Sant, but I, for one, will have no part of it.