My Own Private Idaho

1991

My Own Private Idaho

Critics Consensus

A tantalizing glimpse of a talented director and his stars all at the top of their respective games, Gus Van Sant's loose reworking of Henry IV is smart, sad and audacious.

81%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 57

81%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 38,629
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Movie Info

Gus Van Sant's dreamtime riff on Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Parts I and II" features River Phoenix as Mike Waters, a narcoleptic male hustler who is first seen drifting on a stretch of highway in Idaho. Mike shifts from Seattle to Portland, where he has taken up with Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), who is also a hustler. The difference between them is Mike's sleepy state betrays an uncertain future, while Scott is ready to inherit a fortune from his father within a week. Mike feels a real affection for Scott, but Scott does not believe men can really love each other. Besides, Scott is mostly hustling as a means of slumming and killing time before he inherits his money. Mike, however, delusionally thinks Scott will continue with his life as a drifter after receiving his inheritance. Mike's belief is shared by the dregs of Portland, who live out of an abandoned hotel with their spiritual leader Bob (film director William Richert). They're convinced Scott's fortune will benefit them all, when in reality Scott has other plans.

Cast

River Phoenix
as Mike Waters
Keanu Reeves
as Scott Favor
James Russo
as Richard
Flea
as Budd
Missimo de Cataldo
as Italian Street Boy
Tom Troupe
as Jack Favor
Sally Curtice
as Jane Lightwork
Mickey Cottrell
as Daddy Carroll
Matt Ebert
as Coverboy
Scott Patrick Green
as Coverboy/Cafe Kid
Tom Cramer
as Coverboy
Vana O'Brien
as Sharon Waters
Shaun Jordan
as Cafe Kid
Shawn Jones
as Cafe Kid
George Conner
as Bad George
Oliver Kirk
as Indian Cop
Joshua Halladay
as Baby Mike
Douglas Tollenen
as Little Richard
Stephen Clark Pachosa
as Hotel Manager
Lannie Swerdlow
as Disco Manager
Wally Gaarsland
as Rock Promoter
Bryan Wilson
as Rock Promoter
Mark Weaver
as Rock Promoter
Brian Wilson
as Rock Promoter
Eric Hull
as Mayor's Aide
Jim Caviezel
as Airline Clerk
Ana Cavinato
as Stewardess
Melanie Mosely
as Lounge Hostess
David Reppinhagen
as Yuppie at Jake's
Tiger Warren
as Himself
Massimo DeCataldo
as Italian Street Boy
Pao Pei Andreoli
as Italian Street Boy
Robert Egon
as Italian Street Boy
Paolo Baiocco
as Italian Street Boy
Mario Stracciarolo
as Mike's Italian Client
Jesse Merz
as Mean Kid (uncredited)
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Critic Reviews for My Own Private Idaho

All Critics (57) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (46) | Rotten (11)

  • A simultaneously heartbreaking and exhilarating road movie.

    Jun 2, 2014 | Full Review…
  • Holding all these elements together is Van Sant's sensibility, such an elusive thing it instinctively squirms away from any attempt to pigeonhole it.

    Jun 2, 2014 | Full Review…
  • Although River Phoenix has distinguished himself as an actor ever since his second film, Stand By Me, nothing he has ever done before prepares you for his performance in Private Idaho as the motherless, homeless, loveless piece of human driftwood.

    Jun 2, 2014 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • This is a very rich, very sympathetic piece of work.

    Jun 2, 2014 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • [Van Sant] disdain[s] narrative. He got away with Drugstore Cowboy because its band of drugged-out dodoes were engaged in a petty crime spree that almost passed for a plot. But My Own Private Idaho is a different story. Or rather nonstory.

    Jun 2, 2014 | Full Review…
  • One of the most original cinematic talents at work in this country, Van Sant has a knack for pulling disparate elements together and twisting them into wildly funny lyrical odysseys of the mind and heart.

    Jun 2, 2014 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for My Own Private Idaho

  • Oct 05, 2015
    My Own Private Idaho is an interesting mix of acting, directing, setting, and subject matter. It is an interesting watch but the elements don't cohere very well or make for a solid movie. The main problem is that little is done to first establish an emotional connection to the main character. Because of that, the rest of the film lacks in dramatic impact. Things happen, the film ends, and the impression is that while the film was decent enough, it could have been better.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 17, 2015
    Though possessed of little substance, My Own Private Idaho speaks to the same part of your brain that Party Monster or the like might, and a film that speaks to you at all is a film of merit.
    Gimly M Super Reviewer
  • Jun 01, 2014
    Shoot, you can keep your potatoes and wolves, because if I was to privatize my own state, I don't know if I would go with Idaho, although it is better than Iowa. I can't believe that Gus Van Sant didn't make this "My Own Private Oregon" or something... which isn't to say that there isn't a point in which the leads end up in Portland somewhere along the way. Man, Van Sant sure loves him some Portland, about as much as men, and he was able to put gay themes in here, so I reckon this is a definitive film for him. Yeah, as if "Stand By Me" didn't feel a little fruity already, enjoy this spin-off in which Chris Chambers goes gay and hooks up with Keanu Reeves. No wonder Wil Wheaton is such a big gay activist, seeing as how he missed his opportunity to actually play with River Phoenix, a secret to success which is reflected in Reeves, because, of all people to be driven to notoriety with Phoenix, how did it end up being Reeves and not Wheaton? I joke, but this feels about as much like the sequel to "Stand By Me" as it does like William Shakespeare's "Henry IV" and "Henry v", and if you're wondering how, well, it's because it doesn't feel that much like either "Stand By Me" or Shakespeare equally. Really, I can't figure out what this film is going for a lot of the time, for although this film is mighty decent, even with its being about men's lack of decency, it's hard to get a grip on anything about it, including its characters' depths. Immediate development is seriously lacking in this often very sudden character piece, and quite frankly, gradual characterization isn't too much more extensive, relying on the occasional piece of forced exposition to punctuate long lapses in character focus that storytelling works to fill with mere excess. Style isn't the only thing placed over focus in this film, as filler all too often claims the focus of the narrative, thinning it, until storytelling slips into bland aimlessness that would be less frustrating if all of this bloating didn't eventually lead to unevenness. As big an issue as anything is a disjointed structure that, whether intentional or accidental, takes advantage of all of the simultaneous bloating and lack of flesh-out to jar between tonal extremes almost as badly as it jars between stages in the plot whose inconsistency gets to be so considerable it's all but unreal. The film is all over the place at times with its layering its disjointed narrative, yet no matter how much the film gets to be overblown to the point of convolution, Gus Van Sant can't quite overshadow natural shortcomings to this near-inconsequential story concept, and it doesn't help that when he doesn't bloat substance, he expends it for style. I've alluded to it time and again, but when you come down to it, the biggest problem with this film is overstylization, which plays a large part in the narrative disjointing, but doesn't end there, prominently playing with strange imagery, frantic structuring and other classic forms of artistic bloating that leave the final product to feel more ambitious with its style rather than its substance. Now, such inspiration to style endears in a lot of ways, and it helps that substance is still pretty well-handled, but considering how enjoyable this drama is even with its placement of style over substance, one can only imagine what is being lost in the wake of underdevelopment, dragging, unevenness and overstylization as the film tumbles just short of genuinely rewarding. Still, like I said, the effort comes closer to rewarding than it would have in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, and if it had less solid style to overplay. There's not much to the musical style of this film, but it's well worth waiting for when it does come into play, uniquely substituting original score work with many a decent, entertaining tune that livens up the flavor of this stylistically lively film, like cinematography by John Campbell and Eric Alan Edwards that, while often flat lighting and coloration, is well-toned and framed enough to help draw your eyes toward nifty visuals. It helps that Sara Burton knows how to manage locations, distinguishing each setting in this film in a way that doesn't simply immerse you into handsome environments, but gives you a sense of dynamicity that, of course, defines the sense of adventure that drives this drama's narrative. I guess that the story concept stands to have a little more depth to its dramatics, as surely as its interpretation stands to be more focused and less stylistically overblown, but on paper, this film's subject matter dealing with two men bonding, maybe as more than friends, on their adventure to uncover their pasts and find paths to the future does a lot of things uniquely, and has its own dramatic value to both be done justice and betrayed by Gus Van Sant. Van Sant's script is something of a mess with its overstylized structuring which thins down exposition and bloats filler to the point of serious focal unevenness, but its wit gets it by a long way on the back of sharp, sometimes pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue, and certain genuinely thoughtful moments in characterization and dramatic set piece crafting, sold by direction that is just as effectively thoughtful. Van Sant's style, while often overwrought, is just as often thoroughly lively, and when all of it settles for the sake of dramatic tenderness, Van Sant is tasteful enough to bite with subtlety and grace to thematic and human depths, anchored by strong performances. Plenty of supporting players, such as the charismatic William Richert or the affecting Chiara Caselli, have their time in the spotlight, but that's mostly reserved for leads Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, who both share dynamite chemistry and flaunt just as electric individual charisma, with Phoenix particularly standing out with some powerful emotional highlights that drive a sense of anxiety in someone struggling with his identity as an unconventional lover, and as a young man seeking the truth about his past. Phoenix's powerful performance, the last one that he would deliver in his tragically brief lifetime, carries the film when really allowed to flesh out, and I wish that more of the film was nearly as inspired, but, with that said, there's enough inspiration to style and substance for the final product to at least border on rewarding, even though it could have gone so much further. Overall, the film is either seriously underdeveloped or seriously overblown, to the point of providing both unevenness in focus and pacing, as well as tone, and a feel for certain natural shortcomings that are brought more to life by much too much overstylization, which hold the final product shy of a rewarding state that is still all but achieved, thanks to the solid soundtrack, handsome cinematography, immersive taste in location, and worthy subject matter that is driven by highlights in Gus Van Sant's scripting and direction, and by many a strong performance, - the strongest of which being courtesy of the charming Keanu Reeves and the outstanding River Phoenix - that make "My Own Private Idaho" an entertaining, often biting and all around borderline, if only borderline rewarding human drama. 2.75/5 - Decent
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jul 16, 2013
    A strange but somehow affecting modernization of William Shakespeare's Henry IV, My Own Private Idaho is driven by an incredible performance from River Phoenix and a sort of fleeting beauty in the story and cinematography. It follows two hustlers named Mike and Scott (River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves) as they leave Portland in search of Mike's mother. Scott is the son of the mayor of Portland and is simply hustling to make his father angry, but he's about receive his inheritance. Mike meanwhile never had an easy life, and he hustles out of necessity not choice. He never had "real" parents who were there for him, and his only father figure is Bob, the man who acts as a leader to the group of hustlers working in Portland. As Mike and Scott venture on their road trip, Mike reveals his unrequited attraction to Scott and their friendship grows even more complicated. The movie plays out in an almost dream-like way that's hard to describe. There's moments of humor and sadness in equal measure, but it always feels very personal and interesting. Although Keanu Reeves is better than usual as Scott, it's the late River Phoenix who is absolutely mesmerizing in his role as Mike. He gives the movie its emotional edge, and there's just something very haunting about the performance he gives. The dialogue is a modernization of the original Shakespearean dialogue, which feels a little unnatural at times but it works well enough and it's been changed enough so that it's at least easy to understand. My Own Private Idaho is far from a normal drama, but if you can appreciate its quirks and occasional eccentricities it is actually one of Gus Van Sant's better (albeit less typical) movies.
    Joey S Super Reviewer

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