Two young hustlers, Mike and Scott, navigate a volatile world of junkies, thieves, and johns. They go on a quest along the grungy streets and open highways of the Pacific Northwest, in search of an elusive place called home.
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Perfectly blending a documentary-like focus on its characters & their interactions with moments of stylisation, including intermittent iambic pentameter & dreamlike imagery, My Own Private Idaho is a film that will probably grow in estimation on repeated viewings. While it can be dry & elusive, there's no faulting the sensitive performance of Phoenix or Van Sant's restless exploration of desolate American landscapes.
Want a tender, dreamy road movie about a narcoleptic hustler starring River Phoenix? How about a hammy Portland remake of Chimes at Midnight starring Keanu Reeves? Well, tough, because you can't get one without the other. I'll admit I found most of the Shakespeare scenes painful, and I'll also admit that by the end they didn't bother me so much—so graceful is the place that this road sinks into the horizon.
My Own Private Idaho has meandering energy, a convoluted plot, sputtering characterizing, and ghostly-skeletal drama. It doesn't emote feelings, nor is it immersive, it's also quite self-conscious and stilted. Ultimately, My Own Private Idaho is strung together with long-talky scenes and unmotivated turning points, that all, lack emotional conviction. Most overrated film of both Phoenix and Van Sant?
Got to admit that this was kind of a letdown... All the praise and good reviews made me expect something better. The plot is convoluted (places and people came and went in a messy way) the chemistry between Reeves and Phoenix was barely none (probably because Scott was such and shitty character and Mickey was doing all the emotional work) and the overall vibe is that it had potential but Van Sant couldn't deliver it.
The change of tone, from the realistic acting of River Phoenix to that flamboyant, acccentric circus troupe style, did not always convince me. But this feels quite experimental. There are a lot of experiments throughout the whole film, languages, ways of shooting a scene, angles, and in the end, it works. Wish the initial atmosphere was kept - that hyper-realistic tone that created a superimposed oniric feel.
There were several rough spots, like the Shakespeare-inspired dialogue. At times it felt unnecessary and out of place. At first I didn't even understand why it was there, I blamed Reeves of wooden delivery. But overall it was good. The first third was the weakest, but the it became really bittersweet and moving, especially the campfire scene. It's a tour de force by Phoenix though; a naive and sweet performance.