Given the current recommendation to stay home and practice social distancing, we at the Chicago International Film Festival are looking at past selections from each year of the Festival that you can stream now from home. Stream our past selections as we look forward to the 56th Chicago International Film Festival this October 14-25, 2020. Find the full 56 Films for 56 Years selections here.
For today’s #56Films entry, Gus Van Sant’s masterful My Own Private Idaho with star turns from Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix.
Director: Gus Van Sant
27th Chicago International Film Festival
Mala Noche and Drugstore Cowboy we’re both certainly good, but this third feature from Gus Van Sant–who’s working for the first time with his own original material–is even better: a simultaneously heartbreaking and exhilarating road movie about two male hustlers (River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves) in the Pacific northwest. The first is a narcoleptic from a broken home, while the second is the son of the mayor of Portland; the one without a family is essentially looking for one while the one with a family is mainly in flight from it. The stylistic eclecticism is so far-ranging that it may take some getting used to, but Van Sant’s poetic imagination and feeling for his characters are so lyrically focused that almost everything works, and even the parts that show some strain–such as an extended hommage to Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight that’s stitched into the plot like crazy-quilt patchwork–may excite you nonetheless for their audacity. Phoenix has certainly never been better, and Reeves does his best with a part that suffers from consisting largely of Shakespeare’s Hal as filtered through Welles. One of the movie’s smallest accomplishments is providing the best metaphor for sexual orgasm to come along in years; one of its biggest is justifying an arsenal of road-movie conceits that until now seemed exhausted. — Jonathan Rosenbaum, Film Critic