Big Eden is a movie that was probably a few years ahead of its time. It’s a gay-themed film made in a mainstream style that’s sweet and charming, which you could imagine finding a measure of mainstream success. However, in 2000 it was perhaps a little early for that.
It did find plenty of love from those who saw it though, which has ensured that it’s now getting a 15th Anniversary re-release.
The film is about Henry Hart (Arye Gross), a man who left his small, Montana hometown – the titular Big Eden – after high school and rarely looked back, becoming a successful artist in New York. However, he is called back to Big Eden after his grandfather (George Coe), has a stroke. Henry is happy being openly gay in the big city, but he’s never told the folks back home about that side of his life, and isn’t sure whether he can.
Arriving back in Big Eden he finds things different but also the same, and that includes those he left behind, such as his old best friend Dean, who Henry spent his teenager years lusting after. Dean misses Henry, and Henry can’t deny he still has feelings, but while Dean wants his friend back, he’s straight and probably can’t give Henry what he wants. There’s also Pike, a quiet, shy man who has feelings for Henry. However, Henry is too fixated on his renewed friendship with Dean and looking after his grandfather to notice.
However, while Henry wonders whether this small rural community could accept him if they knew he was gay, what he doesn’t realise is that many people know, and they couldn’t care less. Indeed, they may be conspiring to bring Henry and Pike together.
Big Eden is funny, sweet, rather sentimental and a lot of fun. It’s a fantasy of how we wish the world was, where worries about telling people you’re gay are unfounded, where the crush you had when you were young would try to turn gay just to maintain a relationship with you, and where everyone around you spends all their time doing things they think will make your life better. In this world it is only Henry’s own insecurities and blinders that can hold him back, as well as his preconceptions about the town he left.
It’s romantic and witty, and the main thing it’s concerned with is making the audience feel good, mixed with just enough drama to keep them entertained. It’s full of the sort of characters you really end up rooting for, hoping that they can all find happiness by the end – and because of the type of movie it is, you know that they probably will. It’s not just Henry, Dean and Pike though, as Big Eden is full of characters’ you’ll like, such as the wise Grace (played by Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher), and busy-body Widow Thayer.
While it does deal with ‘gay issues’, it does so in a gentle way, where the characters’ sexuality is less important than who they are as people, and where no one (unlike in many gay-themed films) is bed-hopping, propping up gay bars, dealing with drugs or angstily coming out as a teen. It’s a genuinely lovely movie, with a fairly mainstream sensibility that will leave you wishing that this was the way the world really was.
Overall Verdict: It’s not surprising Big Eden is getting a 15th Anniversary re-release, as it deserves to be a gay classic. It may not be realistic, but it’s charming, witty and romantic, and will leave you feeling good about life.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac