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Big Eden is a tiny fictional town in northwestern Montana, as Preston Sturges or Frank Capra might have envisioned it. Timber and Cowboy country. This is the story of Henry Hart, a successful New York Artist, who returns to the town of his childhood to care for the ailing grandfather who raised him. Back in Big Eden, Henry must come to terms with his relationship to Dean Stewart, his best friend from high School, as well as the object of his unrequited love. All these years Henry has been pining for a dream image of Dean from back then. This is also the story of Pike Dexter, the shy, unassuming Native American owner of the town's general store, who is as surprised as anyone to find himself falling in love with Henry. The people of Big Eden conspire and attempt to bring Henry and Pike together. Written by
What's THIS? A gay-themed movie where nobody dies of AIDS? Nobody gets fag-bashed? Nobody has sweatily hedonistic sex in some backroom of an all-night dance bar? Not everybody has a body built like Michaelangelo's David or better? WHAT is this world coming to???
Hopefully, it's coming to BIG EDEN. There have been tons of straight, light-as-a-souffle comedies that have come down the pike, and all of them were about as grounded in reality as Alice In Wonderland. It was high time gay audiences got their own, and though there have been many steps in the right direction (BILLY ELLIOT, BEAUTIFUL THING, trick), BIG EDEN is finally the first comedy to step forward and say "Yes! Gay men over 30 do fall in love, and it all doesn't have to be about high drama!"
Basically, the plot sounds unremarkable, or like one of those TV-movies-of-the-week where it's one-good-man-with-a-past-against-the-judgmental-rest-of-the-world. A successful New York artist must return to the small, Mid-Western town where he grew up, to care for his ailing grandfather. Once there, he rediscovers friends, family and his heart's desire: a strapping, good-looking newly divorced father of two, who was the love of his life from high school.
And did I mention another strapping, good-looking fella: the Native American proprietor of the local General Store, who has had an unrequited hankerin' for the artist himself all their lives?
There are a thousand paths this storyline could take, and in the real world, none of them end happily. Which is where BIG EDEN throws its audience a real curveball, by asking us to imagine, in the land of the Marlboro Man, out in the middle of "God's Country," that all traces of intolerance and bigotry have been all but excised. There is a group of potential redneck cowboy types right out of Central Casting, who not only DON'T rally around the Stars-and-Stripes to kick these "pree-verts" out of town on a rail, but they conspire to get the lovers who belong together...together! Along with the rest of the town's other quirky-yet-endearing characters.
The long-underrated Arye Gross, who has languished away too many years in less-than-subpar projects, finally shows a glimmer of what makes him perfect leading man material as Henry Hart, the "hero" of the piece. Tim DeKay takes the role of Dean, the straight-but-confused best friend whom Henry would like to be more, and makes him sympathetic, even though there are scenes where you want to reach into the screen and just slap him around a little...As Henry's best female friend in Big Eden, and as the quintessential grandfather, Sam Hart, Louise Fletcher and George Coe (respectively) take temporary vacations from the kind of characters they usually play, to give us vivid portrayals of good people with good hearts, who want nothing more than to see someone in their lives made very happy.
Rounding out the cast is the excellent Nan Martin as the marvelously meddlesome Widow Thayer, who gets some of the movie's biggest laughs. Ditto Viane Cox, playing Henry's New York promoter, agent and no-BS friend.
The most stunning casting coup, however, in a cast of really fine actors, is Eric Schweig, who plays Pike, the third man in the shifting love triangle. Someone mentioned before that he comes off at first like Will Sampson's Chief in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, until you realize the reasons why he's acting the way he does: ever been in love with someone so badly, you could barely look at them, speak to them, or even bear to be around them?
We are still light-years away from a world where a committed same-sex couple of either gender can display open affection for one another, and have the gasps and giggles it would elicit from onlookers be supportive rather than derisive. But bless writer/director Thomas Bezucha for asking "What if?" and then showing us the blissful result.
Finally, a gay-themed film I can show to my mother without blushing.
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