Saturday, October 19, 2013

Big Love in a Small Town

When the movie Big Eden was released back in 2000, its feel-good premise was considered to be based in fantasy rather than reality. In writer/director Thomas Bezucha’s debut feature film, a successful New York City painter moves back to the small mountain town where he grew up, to find love, community and unconditional acceptance of his sexual identity in the most unlikely of places.

A big hit among LGBT film festivals at the time of its release, Big Eden was applauded for presenting an idyllic view of the way life should be. Today, just over a dozen years later, the film seems to mirror the way life is actually becoming for gay and lesbian people all over the world, as same-sex marriage inexorably becomes the law of the land—and ordinary families lovingly embrace their own diversity.

Arye Gross as Henry 
Eric Schweig as Pike

Big Eden is a heartwarming look at life in America’s Pacific Northwest heartland, where neighbors know one another, commune regularly for bazaars and picnics and celebrations, and pitch in to help whenever someone is in need. When elderly Sam Hart (George Coe) is hospitalized with a stroke, and a frantic call goes out for his only living relative, grandson Henry (Arye Gross), to come home to care for his beloved “Sam-pa,”  Henry discovers that he is surrounded by people who love him so much they’ll do just about anything to get him to stay--including finding him a mate so he’ll settle down in Big Eden for good. Back in town, Henry reunites with an unrequited love, his high school hero Dean Stewart (Tim deKay), but a close family friend has another idea...a lonely, soulful Native American named Pike (Eric Schweig) who runs the general store.

Henry and Grace (Louise Fletcher)
The Widow Thayer (Nan Martin) and Pike
Oscar winner Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)  hasn’t had a substantial role like this in years, as stalwart family friend Grace, who engineers the initial interface between Pike and Henry. When it’s decided that the Widow Thayer (Nan Martin)  will prepare special meals for the recovering grandpa Sam, Grace enlists the painfully shy Pike, owner of the general store, to bring the food to Sam and Henry’s house. “Now, Pike,” she says in a folksy twang, “I’m gonna need you to run the middle.”  Dying inside, Pike reluctantly agrees.

Pike expresses his secret love for Henry, who he’s been pining for ever since high school, by learning to cook healthy gourmet meals for Sam, giving the Widow’s poorly cooked fare to his dog Frances. But Henry, preoccupied with the hopelessly straight Dean, barely acknowledges that Pike is alive.

Henry eyes Dean (Tim deKay)
As the dotty, prattling, high-maintenance Widow Thayer, who loves to arrange people’s lives but can’t cook worth a damn, Nan Martin all but steals the show. In addition to preparing inedible meals for Sam and Henry, the Widow arranges an after-church social for all the eligible women in town to meet Henry. When she learns of Henry’s sexual preference, she munches a cookie thoughtfully, then invites a group of gay men to meet Henry the following Sunday.

The Widow greets Sam (George Coe) and Henry after church
Bezucha’s gentle yet absorbing storytelling gives each actor a chance to shine. DeKay has a wonderful moment as he breaks down in tears when he realizes he can’t give his friend Henry what he really needs. O’Neal Compton, as the macho Jim Soames, is at first perplexed at Pike’s feelings for Henry, then becomes their greatest champion. Coe, as Sam, has a wonderful moment where he asks grandson Henry to come out and “tell me who you are.” Veanne Cox adds a hint of vinegar in her amusing turn as Henry’s very-pregnant New York art dealer.

Mary Margaret (Veanne Cox) to Henry: "A woman did not bake this!!"
Arye Gross and Eric Schweig carry the film with their low-key performances. Here is that rare gay couple in the movies don’t have to look like two ultra-fit Ken dolls or Prada-wearing fashionistas—and they don’t devastate anyone with sophisticated, witty repartee, either. They are perfect as two middle-aged men who are able find each other, thanks to the support (and well-meaning machinations) of their families and friends.

A beautiful film, with soaring panoramic views of Montana’s mountains and wide-open spaces, a charming country-flavored soundtrack and dreamily bucolic scenes of family and community unity, Big Eden presents a Utopian view of reality that may be just within our reach.

Just an ordinary couple


Ken Anderson said...

My partner saw this film and keeps saying he wants to watch it again with me. He loves it, and by your description i think i can see why. I'm kind of surprised i hadn't heard more about the film at the time of its release.
Still, it looks refreshingly simple and character based. I'm looking forward to discovering it.

angelman66 said...

I hope you like it, Ken - your partner has good taste - in more ways than one ;-)

Let me know when you get around to seeing it.