review by Elias Savada, 28 September
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.
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!
R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
or adult guardian..