(I couldn't resist what dem bones said in Strange Brew)
My Own Private Idaho is a 1991 movie directed by Gus Van Sant, named after The B-52s song "Private Idaho," and a semi-retelling of Shakespeare : Henry IV Parts I and II, and Henry V; it even has chunks of unaltered Shakespearean dialogue in it. (I checked, as I saw this shortly after taking a Shakespeare class.) It stars Keanu Reeves (in one of his less wooden acting jobs) and River Phoenix.
River Phoenix is Mike, a gay prostitute with narcolepsy. (The film is told from something resembling his viewpoint -- the screen blacks out and then "wakes up" in some completely different setting.)
Mike: I don't know when it was I recognized I had this disease. Sometimes I'll be in one place, and I'll close my eyes... When I open them again, I'll be in a completely different surrounding.
Keanu Reeves is Scott, one of his friend
, a rich
man's son who hangs out with lowlives
(just like Prince Hal does in the Henry IV plays) to the dismay of his father
(just like that of King Henry). Only more so, given that the film starts out with Scott's assertion that "I'll sell my ass, I do it on the street all the time for cash."
Scott: Actually, I'm on the street to settle a bet with my goddamned stone-faced old man. I've decided to
live away from home for three years. To prove a point. That I can live on my own. And to appreciate the value of a dollar. And Mike is right, there, I am going to inherit money.
When I turn twenty-one, I don't want any more of this life. My mother and father will be surprised at the
incredible change. It will impress them more when such a fuck up like me turns good than if I had been a good son all along. All the past years I will think of as one big vacation. At least it wasn't as boring as schoolwork. All my bad behavior I'm going to throw away to pay my debt. I will change when everybody expects it the least.
As you can guess from the profession of these characters, this is not a movie people bothered by male homosexuality will like. Indeed, Scott's dad refers to his son at one point as "effeminate", policemen remark "But if he were my son, I'd...." and Scott staging the scene for his father's messenger to find him in bed with Mike makes a very funny contrast between what is normal for him and what is normal for the non-street world.
The first part of the movie tracks their everyday activities, and then eventually Mike's quest for his mother which takes them to Italy, and Scott's Prince-Hal like treatment of his old companions after he meets a woman in Italy and moves back into his father's world. Scott's relationship with the Falstaff-equivalent character, (William Richert as Bob Pigeon), seems nowhere near as close as that of the characters in Shakespeare's play, but it's interesting to watch his relationship with Mike, who has no obvious Shakespearean parallel, and others throughout. Scott is often Mike's protector during the first part of the film, despite his cynical outlook on life.
Mike, thinking to himself: I remember there were many times that I had been sobbing in Scott's arms and he was helping me out too. He was the greatprotector of us all, and the great planner. He gave us hope in the future. Even though there was no future.
And yet Scott abandons them all, Bob who was obviously expecting patronage from his newly rich pal, as well as Mike. Is it going to be worth it for Scott, as it was for Hal, the future Henry V, or is he condemning himself to normality and hiding parts of himself? What happens to Mike is even more ambiguous; is he really stuck on the streets without his foster brother or is he being picked up by an unseen protector?
I like the movie a lot; most of the reviews I've read seem to like it or hate it. In 2005 a two-disc Criterion Collection edition was released which contains extras such as an audio conversation between director Gus Van Sant and filmmaker Todd Haynes, a documentary on "The Making of My Own Private Idaho," an interview with film critic Paul Arthur on the adaptation of Shakespeare in the film, and a video conversation between producer Laurie Parker and Rain Phoenix, sister of the late River Phoenix.