There’s so much to admire in director Gus Van Sant’s unique and personable My Own Private Idaho — one so visually arresting that it actually invites the use of the pause button — as we follow the travels, both interior and exterior, of two Portland, Ore., street hustlers. Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy) grapples gamely with two great themes: the quest for a home and the search for the love of a parent. The gay, narcoleptic Mike Waters (River Phoenix) is obsessed with finding his long-lost mother, while the sexually ambivalent Keanu Reeves has chosen a surrogate father in a Falstaff-like figure, played to the hilt by director William Richert (Winter Kills). But Van Sant, whose vision is otherwise sharp, pushes the connection to Shakespeare’s Henry IV too far, having Reeves at one point declaim in rhyming couplets, which severely tests even the most forgiving viewer.
Incidentally, the cassette box’s back cover shows Phoenix and Reeves, separately, each with a woman. But make no mistake about it: This is not a movie about picking up girls. When it comes to homosexuality, movie marketers once again prove themselves dishearteningly in denial. B-