My Own Private Idaho (1991) from Tuna

Directed by Gus van Sant, My Own Private Idaho (1991) is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's Henry IV. As such, it takes much from Orson Welles's Falstaff. It is also a buddy/road movie in which one character finds redemption, and the other doesn't. River Phoenix is a narcoleptic male hooker. Keanu Reeves is his best friend, the son of the wealthy mayor, eventually due to inherit money and power, but currently a street hustler. Their "Falstaff" is an older street hustler named Bob, who is sort of the father figure for all the miscreants.

Phoenix and Reeves go on a road trip to find the mother that abandoned Phoenix. They follow the trail all the way to Italy, but never find her. While the two are in Italy, Reeves falls for Chiara Caselli, and brings her back to Portland, where he receives his inheritance and becomes completely establishment. Bob, heartbroken that the Reeves character more or less disowns him, dies, as does Reeves' real father.


This isn't just any art film, but one of the artiest films of all time. The dialogue switches between Shakespearean prose and street talk. The film is visually striking, and is a frank portrayal of street hustling, but is packed with as much visual symbolism as the 102 minutes could possibly hold, so the visuals waffle between stark reality and surreal imagery.

If the material appeals to you, the film is well performed and Criterion did a very nice job on the DVD set. This is the sort of film that film historians love to analyze, and the film is just strange enough that anything said about it seems plausible, so the Criterion Collection DVD set includes an entire second DVD basically of analysis audio tracks, and a few deleted scenes.



  • Exclusive new audio conversation between director Gus Van Sant and filmmaker Todd Haynes
  • The Making of My Own Private Idaho, a new documentary featuring interviews with key crew members
  • New video interview with film critic Paul Arthur on the adaptation of Shakespeare in My Own Private Idaho
  • Video conversation between producer Laurie Parker and Rain Phoenix
  • Outtakes
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Number of discs: 2


  • Chiara Caselli shows breasts and buns in a short sex scene presented as a series of stills.
  • There were lots of male buns in the film, especially from Keanu Reeves.

The Critics Vote ...

  • River Phoenix won several art festival awards for his performance.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It grossed $6.4 million in arthouse distribution (maximum: 98 screens). The cost was $2.5 million.

Miscellaneous ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+, but for a limited audience.

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