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'Big Eden'

Montana is hot spot for gay romance in 'Big Eden'

Friday, December 07, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

"Big Eden," the rustic Montana title town, is a kind of paradise, yes -- but there's trouble in it.

'Big Eden'

RATING: PG-13 for gay romantic theme

STARRING: Arye Gross, Eric Schweig, Tim DeKay, Louise Fletcher

DIRECTOR: Thomas Bezucha

WEB SITE: www.bigeden.com



Favorite son Henry Hart (Arye Gross), a painter on the eve of his big breakthrough exhibition in New York, returns home to cowboy-timber country after a 20-year absence to care for the ailing grandfather who raised him.

Henry expects to come to terms with Gramps (George Coe). What he doesn't expect is being forced to come to terms with hunky Dean (Tim DeKay), his best friend from high school and longtime secret love object. That butt-slappin' jock is now a widower with two kids in Big Eden.

As if that weren't enough on his emotional plate, Henry must also come to terms with Pike (Eric Schweig), a shy, quiet Native American who runs the general store (beer, bait and cappuccino -- plus "used books for sale or trade"). Pike is a soulful "provider" in touch with his feminine side, but wishes he were in touch with Henry, instead.

Widow Thayer (Nan Martin), owner of the local diner, tries to fix Henry up with a local gal, but fails spectacularly. Equally unsuccessful are the meals-from-hell she prepares for Henry -- which prompts Pike to order upscale dining magazines on the Internet to try to win Henry's heart through his stomach by becoming an astounding gourmet cook.

The minute he arrives back, Henry (like Kevin Kline in "Life As a House") immediately jumps into the chilly water and knotty-pine memories of Big Eden -- an idyllic Northwest setting much like that of the late Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Speaking of which, we get a warm performance here from the rather ancient Louise Fletcher (as an old family friend), who never really deserved or did anything to equal or justify her ancient Oscar for the "Cuckoo's Nest" film version in 1976.

Coe does a nice job as Gramps. So does O'Neal Compton -- who seems like an ominous "Deliverance" type at the outset -- as nebby neighbor Jim.

In one of the film's best scenes, Dean hugs Henry while Pike watches from the shadows. It's poignant the first time, less so upon repetition: Poor Pike always seems to be around the corner glimpsing such painful scenes. Everybody keeps stumbling upon everybody else in intimate moments with their rivals.

Turns out, Pike also knows the constellations, notably the Pleiades and beautiful Seven Sisters Indian myth, which has it that stars sometimes fall to Earth to rejoin the village from which they were cast out. Henry and Pike are star-crossed, indeed.

But the source of all this adoration for Henry is esoteric. He strikes me as more whiny and lugubrious than adorable. Why, exactly, is everyone so enthralled with him?

Never mind. The folks of Big Eden -- Montana yentas all -- conspire to bring him and Pike (and everybody else) together. They go from homophobic or homo-ignorant to homophilic, inspired by romantic vistas and values akin to those of "Northern Exposure." In this utopian town, the story, the characters and the happy ending are wonderfully good -- too good to be true.

"Big Eden," directed by Thomas Bezucha, is what my colleague Harry Kloman calls "Capracorn." It goes on a bit long and soap-operatically but is, in the end, a sweet gay Northwestern romantic fairy tale.

Whew. Talk about rarefied genre.

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