Big Eden
review by Elias Savada, 28 September 2001

Way back in 1989, Arye Gross popped into my cinematic vision in the dreadful dramedy The Experts, opposite John Travolta and his future wife Kelly Preston. Unforgettably bad, regretfully, because here it is, back in my mind and in the first sentence of this review. Travolta and Preston have married and made some horrible films (I walked out on Battlefield Earth. Why didn't you?). As for Gross, well he's been below my radar screen ever since, working his way from innocuous comedies (Coupe de Ville, Shaking the Tree) to low grade sex spoofs (Hexed), through more than 30 other features. But the former comic sidekick has really grown up with Big Eden, a funny coming-of-age romantic romp set in the Montana timberwoods, a thousand miles from nowhere. Gross's hair may be thinning and there's his uncanny resemblance to Paul Reubens, but he shines in this quaint, gay reshaping of the Northern Exposure sensibilities, a sure fire audience pleaser.

Unless you're homophobic. In which case I don't ever want you to read my reviews again. Shame on you! Oops, let me get back on track. Sorry, but some things just tick me off.

Director-screenwriter Thomas Bezucha's small but powerfully vibrant debut feature comes after a stint as a creative service director in New York. He fashioned his semi-pseudo-autobiographical fable as a yearning for "what you want," and not what you know, which presumably would parallel his fantasy to toss his corporate life "to teach art in an elementary school in mountains." His friends responded that he was crazy. "Are you nuts? You're gay! You can't move to Montana." Well, thankfully, he did, if only for a month in the fall of 1999, to shoot his film. While he didn't stay, he did capture the essence of that special Midwestern small town camaraderie, chock full of amusing, lovable characters (a great supporting cast), set amid the landscape of a Shakespearian comedy of errors. What's not to love in the nooks and crannies of the ice-capped mountains, luscious evergreens, and pristine lakes (all wonderfully captured by cinematographer Rob Sweeney) of Big Eden, Montana, sister city to Cicely, Alaska.

Big Eden stars Gross as modest Henry Hart, a New York artist on the cusp of stardom. On the eve of Navigations, an important gallery event showcasing his work, he instead plots a course back home to his fictional homestead to care for his grandfather Sam (George Coe), who has just suffered a debilitating stroke. The trip west is just as much an escape from impeding celebrity and his hectic Big Apple lifestyle as it is for Henry ("cute, available, and unattached") to step back, relax, and perhaps enjoy a relationship he's been dreaming of for 18 years. A handful of years in therapy apparently have been unsuccessful in exorcising the belief that there is more than best friendship waiting between him and his high school buddy Dean Stewart (Tim DeKay), who succumbed to marriage, fatherhood (two boys), and his own disillusionment. Recently divorced, his timely availability brings Henry hope that love will blossom among the pines. Yet whatever their bond holds, the two men can't seem to rise above their fleeting, frustrating moments of sexual intimacy together. Dean just isn't gay, despite his best attempts.

Which proves beneficial in the long run, but frustrating in the early goings, for Pike Dexter (Eric Schweig) the lumbering, long-haired Native American who runs the local general store. He can't expose his feelings for Henry for fear of disrupting Henry's buoyant expectations with Dean. And he's just as timid as a toadstool behind that troubled brow. His approach to Henry's heart is ultimately through the man's stomach, propping open his copy of Joy of Cooking, then scouring the Internet and gourmet magazines for salivating delicacies that he painstakingly prepares and delivers daily to Henry and his ailing grandfather. Henry has been mistakenly assuming that the meals have been cooked up by local matchmaker, Widow Thayer (Nan Martin), as part of the mating ritual she has planned for the eligible prodigal son. She surrounds him with a bevy of local winsomes, not realizing his sexual proclivities. When the truth is outed, she just brings in some local meat as a peace offering, disguising the event as a "chess club." She's a hoot.

Having stayed on for six months, Henry has spent his day tending to Sam and helping teacher and family friend Grace Cromwell (Louise Fletcher) at the school house, while she has offered back her own two cents on life as she sees it in their small burg. But he's restless for New York, and still in the dark about the Indian in the cupboard.

Then there are the seven dwarves. The local redneck town slackers who spend night and day glued to the porch and inner sanctum of Dean's store, helping themselves to endless cups of cappuccino and offering mannerly advice to the lovelorn storekeeper. What a charming bunch! Honest!

Pretty soon the whole town is rooting for Pike and Henry to finally connect their sidelong glances. Safe to say, this fable has a gloriously happy ending. Smile, damn you. SMILE!

Written and
Directed by:

Thomas Bezucha

Arye Gross
Eric Schweig
Tim DeKay
Louise Fletcher
George Coe
Nan Martin
O'Neal Compton
Corinne Bohrer
Veanne Cox

R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
accompanying parent
or adult guardian..




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