My Own Private Idaho 8

We at THN collectively love Keanu Reeves and have been immensely excited about his return this year in JOHN WICK. Although not released in UK cinemas until April, THN have been lucky enough to have already seen it and we can tell you that it is all kinds of awesome.

JOHN WICK was so brilliant that it has awoken my long-forgotten admiration for Mr Reeves and compelled me to revisit his extensive back catalogue immediately. Since attending the press screening I have found myself watching countless Keanu Reeves films much to the discomfort of the husband, though technically Keanu was around first. In fact I was so enamoured with JOHN WICK that as soon as I got home I went on a Reeves DVD buying binge – a cautionary tale to the Mr to never leave me home alone. I already had all of my favourites but I thought it important to try and get the complete collection, thankfully some of the not-so-good films are a steal – JOHNNY MNEMONIC set me back the costly sum of 8p!

Every Friday between now and the release of JOHN WICK on 10th April, I’ll be taking a look at a different Keanu classic. Last week saw the weekly series kick off with the wonder that is BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. Things get a little more serious and a lot more indie for the second Keanu classic, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO.

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MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO was one of the projects that Reeves jumped into straight after BILL & TED, the other being POINT BREAK (more on that one next week). It was definitely a very different sort of film and allowed Keanu to showcase that he was more than just an airhead dude. In the Gus Van Sant-directed movie Reeves stars as Scott Favor. Scott is the rebellious son of a local politician who, having decided to cast off his wealthy destiny until his 21st birthday, is living his life on the streets selling his body to the highest bidder alongside a gang of other young men. The protagonist of the film is fellow hustler Mike, played by the late and great talent that was River Phoenix, who also happens to be in love with Scott.

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Sadly his feelings aren’t reciprocated, with Scott only sleeping with men for money. The relationship between the two central characters is extremely beautiful and touching. Although Scott may not have any romantic feelings for Mike it is clear that he does deeply care about the other man and helps him in his quest to reconnect with the family he left behind. He’s also the only other member of the rather strange incarnation of the Lost Boys who looks after Mike when he has one of his episodes. You see, Mike suffers from narcolepsy, a condition which brings on sudden bursts of deep sleep when confronted by high stress situations.

Interestingly Phoenix almost wasn’t in the movie at all as his agent refused to show him the treatment for the film. Reeves knew that Phoenix was a must for the production and rode on his motorcycle from his home in Canada to Phoenix’s in Gainesville, Florida, and hand delivered the script himself. It also gave the leads the opportunity to get to know each other, something that Van Sant really wanted from his cast. It’s a good thing he did too as the film might not have packed as much of a punch, as Phoenix wrote the iconic campfire scene in private on little scraps of paper. Van Sant liked what had been written but was unsure about whether Reeves’ would be up for it. He needn’t have worried though as Phoenix and Reeves had already discussed it at length and Keanu was fine with everything – proving that, although a member of young Hollywood with a female teenage fan base, he wasn’t afraid to get up close and personal with another man.

The young male cast all moved in with Gus Van Sant during the filming, making him a kind of pseudo Bob, however the youngsters caused such a disturbance staying up late partying and playing music that Van Sant had to move out and stay with a friend so that he could sleep. This obvious camaraderie clearly shows on screen as the scenes involving the entire group are electric; Reeves in particular shining as the honorary leader. Hidden amongst the cast is Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers; trivia fans will know that his band mate Anthony Kedis stars alongside Keanu in POINT BREAK which was made around the same time.

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MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO was technically the result of three unfinished Gus Van Sant projects coming together. The first was a modern adaptation of Henry IV, called Howling at the Moon, about street kids in Portland and was told entirely in Shakespearean verse. The second was called In a Blue Funk and was about two cousins living on the streets of Vegas who go to Spain after seeing their surname on a Spanish map and want to find out about themselves and their family. The third idea was called My Own Private Idaho and featured an early version of Mike as a hustler who gets picked up by a German auto parts salesman and “kept’ at his house. After finding it hard to complete any of the three Van Sant decided to merge together the ideas and MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO was born.

The film didn’t do too well commercially, mainly thanks to distributor New Line who decided that the content and style of the film was better suited to art house theatres, which meant that the movie only got a limited release. Thankfully good old VHS saved the film, garnering it a huge cult following. It would be interesting to see whether the studios would treat the film in the same way today given the critical success of films such as PRIDE and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.

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With MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO Keanu Reeves proved to the world that he was capable of holding his own against one of his strongest peers, River Phoenix, and it’s a shame that the film hasn’t been viewed by more people. Granted, some of the subject matter won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but at the heart of the story is an incredible tale of friendship, loyalty, betrayal and unrequited love. The scenes after Scott has turned 21 are particularly gut-wrenching, the viewer feeling the same sense of betrayal that Mike, Bob and all the other hustlers suffer.

Don’t forget to come back next Friday where I’ll be delving into the world of bank-robbing surfers as POINT BREAK takes the stage.

Did you miss last week’s wander down memory lane? Click here to find out all about BILL & TED’s EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.