Big Eden

In today's heavily segmented marketplace, one of the flourishing subgenres of film centers on gays and lesbians. Every year, many of these specialty films come and go, unnoticed by the public. Many of these films wear their sexuality as a mark of shame or a rallying point, leading to politically charged films that are often unpalatable to many moviegoers not in their intended audience. Movies like The Broken Hearts Club and But I'm a Cheerleader ultimately fail because they try to say something, but do not succeed. On the flipside, mainstream Hollywood does no better. Homosexual characters frequently appear as extremely stereotypical sidekicks, usually with the men appearing as flamboyant cross-dressers. Which is why Big Eden is so refreshing. Although the main characters are gay, nobody ever utters the word "gay" or "homosexual." Big Eden won a slew of awards at various Gay and Lesbian film festivals across the country, and even garnered accolades at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Granted, it's Cleveland, but this film does have crossover appeal.

The appeal lies in the unfailing good nature of the film. All the characters are good people at heart, and only wish the best for themselves and others. Big Eden is a small town in rural Montana, out of the way for everybody, especially for New Yorker Henry Hart (Arye Gross, Gone in 60 Seconds, Rubbernecking). Hart is an artist who returns to Big Eden to help his grandfather Sam (George Coe, The Omega Code, A Rumor of Angels) recover from a stroke. Also returning to town is Dean Stuart (Tim Dekay, The Crow: Salvation, The Prospector), Henry's childhood friend and crush. It took years for Henry to get over Dean, who is straight, and seeing him again throws Henry into turmoil. Since Henry is single and Big Eden is a small town, people like Widow Thayer (Nan Martin, Cast Away, Last Gasp) go about setting him up. Although he tells nobody, everybody soon realizes he is gay. The great thing that writer/director Thomas Bezucha does is that he has nobody care. Everybody accepts Henry for who he is, and there is no prejudice or discrimination. Widow Thayer merely shifts her sights from women to men for potential dates for Henry.

This may not be entirely realistic, especially in a small rural town, but this is where the charm of the movie comes from. Pike Dexter (Eric Schweig, 500 Nations, Follow the River) owns the general store, and has a huge crush on Henry. However, he is extremely shy and introverted. One of his jobs is to deliver Thayer's meals to Henry and Sam. The meals are horrendous, and he ends up learning to cook his own gourmet meals and replacing Thayer's with his, just as a way to make Henry happy. But he still cannot muster the courage to utter more than a few words in Henry's presence. Schweig gives the best performance of the film. He looks genuinely uncomfortable and nervous around Henry. He also has a quiet determination and is obviously trying to overcome his nervousness. The entire town is also trying to help him. It's great watching everybody rally around Pike, much to his reluctance to ask and receive advice and Henry's obliviousness.

Big Eden is also about a sense of renewal. Although he does not realize it, Henry is looking for a sense of belonging. He is looking for a place to call home, and whether it is New York or Big Eden is unclear. Dean already started over. He is getting over a divorce and raising two young children. Big Eden (a name that brings to mind perfection) is a place for him to raise them with help of loving neighbors. Pike is looking to break free of his introversion. Here, in this reassuring and heartfelt town, they can find the support they need. Small touches by Bezucha help to establish the mood of Big Eden. Slow country music helps set the fact that this is close, traditional (but not backward) community. Wooden planked houses, boots, and sweaters also contribute to an outdoorsy/camping like atmosphere. But best of all, Bezucha integrates his character's homosexuality seamless into their personality. It feels like watching real people on screen instead of actors playing gay people like in some other movies.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic material.

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