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3.9 out of 5 stars52
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 24 July 2008
This film is a surreal character study, following the misfit lives of a small group of 20 something rent boys. It's a strange sort of film. I have never seen anything else quite like this. The best way to give you a better impression of what I mean is to say that it shares some parallels with Oliver Twist, if the Oliver character was older and gay, if his workhouse was really a brothel where he squatted illegally and where Fabien is really his pimp.

I first saw this film when I was far too young to understand what any of it was about. But, somehow, it made a big impression on me. So, I looked this film up not so long ago to check it out and to see if it left me with the same feelings as it did before.
I found it kind of sad, it's strange, because I find it heart warming and yet some how heart breaking. Sweet yet bitter!

We see the late River Phoenix playing the Oliver typed role, led by his very own Artful Dodger in the form of a young Keanu Reeves.
I was originally touched by the close friendship that they seemed to share. It seemed one of a real love that transcends sexual attraction.
There is some one-sided attraction going on in there; which the other is well aware of and doesn't mind, and I think that's what originally touched me. The concept of a straight guy being friends with a gay guy that is in love with him and it being a non-issue: A true friendship.
Watching this film again however I have a completely different take on it.
Now, it looks to me as if the whole friendship was just as one sided as the sexual attraction and that makes this film even more sad for me.

The only real plot is that one character is in search for his mother while the other tags along to hide from his father.

Even though this film is not for most people I still think that it is well worth a look. It has a bit of every movie genre in there: Road Trip, Coming Out, Coming of Age, Living happily ever after, and those ones that don't really end; the ones where you're faced with the cruel fact of life where not every story has a happy ending.
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on 16 November 2001
This film is, more than anything else, proof of what a great actor River Phoenix truly was. The film itself is very interesting. While the subject matter may seem controversial, the touching and off-beat way in which it is handled by director/writer Gus Van Sant is never exploitive or offensive. It's the sort of film that you'd think could only have been made during that shining era of cinematic daring and innovation, the 1970's. I mean, I can picture it fitting in nicely on a double bill with 'Midnight Cowboy' or 'Taxi Driver' for example. It has that distinctive and independant nature. Surprizingly it's actually from 1991. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating and oddly romantic piece of work. Some scenes work better than others (as is the case with most movies, especially those of the so-called "art house" variety) but it's never anything less than totally unique and quietly touching. Plenty of interesting filmic, philosophical, and artistic ideas presented in an interesting and highly effective manner. There is no use questioning the fact that River Phoenix's intense and heartbreaking performance is the films centrepiece, but the film stands up very well even in the scenes he's not in. This is one of my favourite films of the 1990's and the one that I hope River Phoenix will long be lovingly remembered for.
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on 19 November 2003
Not the most uplifting film. I have wanted to see it for a long time but was unable to find it in the local video hire store/library etc. Nor could I find it for sale. So, having waited so long to see it.....
It is a remarkable and moving piece of film. The cinematography is - unusual - in places. The 18 rating seems to be because there is a 'suggestion' and little more of gay (and hetero) sex. Where the more intimate scenes occur they are filmed in a frozen action sequence, but in that somewhat 'hammy' film genre where instead of freeze framing, the actors hold their pose, a little odd. I s'pose the 18 cert is because it went thru the censors in the early 90's so little more was possible.
The story follows Mike as the principal character, played by River Phoenix, who is screwed up from childhood, suffers from narcolepsy (uncontrollable falling into deep sleep)and tries to survive as a rent boy. His co star is Keaneau Reeves who is the badly behaving rich boy. Will he fall in love with Mike, as Mike declares his love for him? or not?
The ending - it's ambiguous!
Worth watching, worth owning but don't expect a feel good factor.
Good reflection of the mid Western States though I think, from my experience.
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Definitely one of those films you either love or hate; it's a surrealist and uncomfortably explicit road movie about rent boys who have Shakespearean pretensions! Those who like their films straight (in both senses of the word) will probably hate every minute, but saying that it does share a sense of humour with "Withnail and I" and that's loved by pretty much everyone, so who knows. The locations and photography are beautiful, music brilliant, characters larger than life and the script (based on Henry IV) full of wit and tragedy. However, one thing outshines the film itself and stays with you long after the final credits...River Phoenix. He died three years later and so, like James Dean (who he resembles here), is frozen forever in full narcoleptic, übercool glory. It's Phoenix's film and he is absolutely superb and should have been considered for an Oscar - in that same year Warren Beatty was nominated for Bugsy. Tragic.
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on 10 July 2005
what can i say, this is a fantastic flim. the only real problem with this film is the plot...there isn't one really....but it does plod along smoothly and Phoenix and Reeves do a spiffing job. i think this is Phoenixs best role, he is very believeable and he should recive more credit for this film. in fact the film hasn't recived much credit at all and i really dont know why, its beautifully shot and gives realistic feel of the cold dreary lives of these poor hustlers. very moving.
the films about narcoleptic Mike (Pheonix), a hustler in search of his mother. Scott (Reeves) is also a hustler, but with one difference, he has a huge amount of cash waiting for him on his 21st birthday. Scott tags along with Mike to find his mother. as they travel, they try to come to terms with reality, sexuality and their desperate need to belong. one is bound to be hurt as the other drifts away into luxuary leaving his past behind.
i have waited YEARS for this film to be realsed on dvd and so glad it finally has. it certainly makes an impact and i really recommened to ANYONE who is a fan of Gus Van Sants work or Phoenixs beautiful acting talent which was tragically cut short
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on 6 November 2012
This is brave movie making. Gus Van Sant took a giant risk with this masterpiece about rent boys. The two stars (Reeves,Phoenix) took a major gamble as starring as said Rent boys. The risks paid off. 'My Own Private Idaho' is a great little off-beat movie.

I watched it 20 years ago (loved it), and i watched the dvd version again recently, and even after all those years this movie still mesmerises me. One aspect of 'My Own Private Idaho" that I thought was interesting was its use of Shakespeare's Henry IV (I think, but i could be wrong), with Keanu Reeves taking the role of the dissolute Prince Hal, who at the end of the film rejects his prostitute friends to emerge like 'the sun, as if from behind clouds' in order to properly inherit his father's kingdom. Reeves cruel rejection obviously destroys the character played by River Phoenix.

Outstanding film! River Phoenix was an extra-ordinary actor. Having watched the campsite scene again in My Own Private Idaho, I noticed Phoenix's body-language, and his improvisation acting skills and intonation, and i realised that he (Phoenix) was one of the greatest actors in the history of motion pictures. And there are certain scenes in Running On Empty in which he steps completely outside the box (to use a contemporary cliche).

Gus Van Sant is supposed to have fallen in love with him. Don't know if that's true or not, but in Van Sants book (available on this site) one character falls in love with another character who plays a rent Boy in a movie.

My Own Private idaho is an odd little gem.
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on 20 January 2011
I remember watching this film when i was younger, i was a great fan of River Phoenix, and Keanu came around about the same time. I remember being fascinated by it, but disturbed by watching men embracing eachother, but being left with the feeling that 'there was just something about this film.' I watched it again now as an adult, the soundtrack brought back my experiences of the film. Here we have a film regarding the lifestyle of rent boys, sometimes filmed in a documentary type fashion. The main story line focuses on the friendship of two young rent boys one Scott (Keanu Reeves) nearing his 21st birthday when he will no longer have to sleep on the streets as he will inherit his family fortune, (in fact this lifestyle he has made by choice in a rebellion type fashion against his whom he describes as his cold hearted father). Although his street fellows know he is to inherit this fortune, he keeps it secret from them that it is his plan to turn his back on this life become 'good' and surprise his parents who he believes will then forward him greater respect. The other is Mikie (River Phoenix), not only is he a rent boy, but also a suffers narcolepsy, often falling asleep at times of emotional stress. His acting far overshadows that of the others, he is absolutely superb. Heart rendering most of the time, as he collaspses at the most inconvienient of times (considering his vocation) you question how the hell someone can exist like this? Often their clientele mainly being men, are damn ugly and outright bizarre and these boys subjecting themselves to this kind of lifestyle can make for uncomfortable viewing (although sex scenes are more like still poses, nothing like Brokeback Mountain,how times have changed). Mikie being narcoleptic often has dreams of very early memories of his mother, who left his life when he was just a baby, continuely thoughout the film his longing to be loved because of this rejection is openly raw. The rent boys are not all necessarily gay, Scott makes it abundantly clear that men are not his choice of preference, however Mikie's character, although far from being camp, does have stronger feelings for Scott ,but whether this is a reflection of his desperate need to be loved is for the viewer to decide, being looked after by Scott in periods of narcolepsy and Scott helping try to seek out his mother may have blurred the line of friendship for him. Scott however due to his behaviour towards Mikie does express that he cares for him more than anyone else, but this friendship will not fit into his the hard hearted plan that he pursues for himself in the end. The rent boys do tend to kind of support eachother, gathering around an older, pimp type character in an abandoned house. As the film goes on Mikie finds out even more disturbing facts about his childhood, and that of who his father really is, and the film pretty much ends how it starts, Mikie the rent boy, homeless, narcoleptic and vunerable to society. Scenes with Scott and Mikie such as when they are trying to start the motorbike, do express a genuine friendship (not just acting) between Keanu and Phoenix. Overall this film is gritty, disturbing, dark humoured, and poinant, only good actors can pull of this raw type of film making. Although River's life was so tragically cut short, his film career showed a tendency to gravitate towards this type of no frills film making, I respect that, Running on Empty was another fantastic performance.
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on 16 June 2004
Being fairly new to the world of 'art-house' movies, i first found this a little confusing, and i was concerned that this strange approach would hinder the emotional impact of the film, rendering it yet another overly stylish, powerless and incomprehensible piece of modern film-art. I had also heard that it was extremely shocking and controversial. However, i began to understand Gus Van Sant's language, and it soon seemed completely natural. The claims regarding its explicit sexual nature have been, fankly, grossly exaggerated and probably the result of mild homophobia. The camp fire scene is the most memorable, with River Phoenix's perfomance as Mike, subtle and shining as usual, bringing to mind the very similar camp-fire scene in "Stand by me". Having only seen Keanu Reeves appear in such films as 'Speed' and 'the Matrix', in which he hardly demonstrates any power or skill as an actor, it came as somewhat of a pleasant surprise to see his humorous and striking portrayal of Scott. A sensitive choice of music contributed to the mood, both in the comic, nostalgic steel-string guitar to the gentle folk song that plays as Mike vows through tears to find his mother (by the way, does anybody know what that song is or how to find out?). I was slightly disappointed and depressed by the ending, which is extremely inconclusive, but i suppose movies don't always need a conclusive ending to make them good. Overall a visually stylish, emotionally powerful movie, with some fantastic acting by River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves.
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As the title indicates, ostensibly this is the story of narcoleptic Idaho boy Mike (River Phoenix) and his journey to the west coast to search for his lost mother and the adventures he has whilst there with friend and fellow hustler Scott (Keanu Reeves).

But it is also a mirror of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV‘, with River Phoenix’s character playing Poins; Keanu Reeves’s Scott being Prince Hal (he’s a scion of a rich local family), and William Richert playing Bob doubling as Falstaff. This intrusive mirror of henry IV can be seen either as a clever conceit or as just plain silly, depending on your point of view. The crossover comes and goes in terms of dialogue but overall the Henry IV storyline forms the core of the film. No, that’s not strictly true: what we really have here is two movies running side by side, the other being Mike’s search for his mother.

The acting is strangely wooden at times. Was this intended (there are no extras on my DVD)? This is also a mumblecore movie, so be prepared to switch quickly to subtitles. Furthermore, despite being a Gus van Sant film, any homoeroticism is bleached out. As the final nails, there is barely any humour and no true pathos.

Thus for me, overall, the film is an unsatisfactory experience. Any interest in the film is the ‘Henry IV’ element (and admittedly the bare-chested Keanu Reeves, but even that is sanitised). As Daniel Rosenthal has written in his book ‘100 Shakespeare Films’, “None of the transpositions [between the two elements] works”, or rather none works convincingly: “The Shakespearian content could be removed to create a perfectly coherent, though not especially engaging seventy-minute feature.”
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on 29 April 2012
This is brave movie making. Gus Van Sant took a giant risk with this masterpiece about rent boys. The two stars (Reeves,Phoenix) took a major gamble as starring as said Rent boys. The risks paid off. 'My Own Private Idaho' is a great little off-beat movie.

I watched it 20 years ago (loved it), and i watched the dvd version again recently, and even after all those years this movie still mesmerises me. One aspect of 'My Own Private Idaho" that I thought was interesting was its use of Shakespeare's Henry IV (I think, but i could be wrong), with Keanu Reeves taking the role of the dissolute Prince Hal, who at the end of the film rejects his prostitute friends to emerge like 'the sun, as if from behind clouds' in order to properly inherit his father's kingdom. Reeves cruel rejection obviously destroys the character played by River Phoenix.

Outstanding film! River Phoenix was an extra-ordinary actor. Having watched the campsite scene again in My Own Private Idaho, I noticed Phoenix's body-language, and his improvisation acting skills and intonation, and i realised that he (Phoenix) was one of the greatest actors in the history of motion pictures. And there are certain scenes in Running On Empty in which he steps completely outside the box (to use a contemporary cliche).

Gus Van Sant is supposed to have fallen in love with him. Don't know if that's true or not, but in Van Sants book (available on this site) one character falls in love with another character who plays a rent Boy in a movie.
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