Big Eden

                     Cynicism has taken over so much of popular culture that it has even infected me.
             Once upon a time I was accused by someone of being jaded and that my
             reviews  were reflecting that attitude. When I first started to write the review for
BIG EDEN, an innocuous fable about learning how to open oneself up to life's
             possibilities, I finally came to see what that person was saying. This is a pleasant film,
             certainly not a groundbreaker in terms of queer cinema, but it hardly qualifies as an
             unmitigated disaster either. Indeed,
BIG EDEN is a well-acted, sometimes comic
             movie that gently makes it point that sometimes what we want most is right there
             in front of us, we're just too busy or preoccupied to notice it.

                     That could be the case with the film's hero Henry Hart (Arye Gross), a relatively
             successful Manhattan-based artist who fled his Montana hometown some twenty years
             early partly because he felt that as a gay man he just didn't fit in. As
BIG EDEN opens,
             Henry seems to have it all: success, money, a fabulous apartment -- everything but that
             special someone to share it all. His life is upended when he receives the news that his
             beloved grandfather (and his only living relative) Sam (George Coe) has suffered a stroke.
             Before you know it, Henry has run away again from his NYC problems and fled back to his
             childhood home.

                     Thomas Wolfe posited that you can't go home again, but the message that writer-
             director Thomas Bezucha seems to be imparting, is that Wolfe was wrong. That not only
             can you go home, you should. If for no other reason than to confront the ghosts of your
             past. For Henry, those ghosts involve not coming out to his grandfather and facing the
             object of his lifelong unrequited crush -- the newly divorced with two kids Dean (Tim DeKay).

                 The utopian town of Big Eden also contains a general store operated by the shy,
         tongue-tied Native American Pike Dexter (Gary Schweig), the town busybody -- the
         Widow Thayer (Nan Martin) -- who is recruited to cook for Sam and Henry, the kindly
         schoolteacher Grace (Louise Fletcher), and an assortment of layabouts led by Jim Soams
         (O'Neal Compton). The denizens of this town prove to be an open-minded lot and that
         is part of the film's charm. By inverting the conventions of the romantic comedy genre,
         Bezucha has crafted a sweet movie that doesn't exceed its modest aspirations.

                 Gross manages to keep Henry from being too priggish or self-absorbed. That he
         would still harbor desires for his first love is a totally believable prospect. It doesn't help
         that Dean is a touchy-feely kind of guy or that his kids come to admire and like Henry.
                 On the other hand, Henry is too busy to notice that Pike has similar feelings toward
         him. After realizing that the Widow Thayer's cooking is nearly inedible, Pike takes it
         upon himself to turn out gourmet meals for Sam and Henry. There are intimations that
         Sam knows all about Henry and, in act, is encouraging Pike's pursuit, but Bezucha
         handles that delicately. The writer-director only falters a bit in an awkward holiday
         confrontation and the inevitability of the events. As this is a fable, one can almost
         predict to the letter exactly what will happen and when.

                 Buoying the film are the fine performances, especially from little seen character actors
         like George Coe and Nan Martin. Gross is fine as Henry and possesses the requisite
         combination of neurosis and cuddliness that the part requires. DeKay is perfectly cast
         as the evolved straight boy, while Louise Fletcher lends the appropriate warmth to her
         role and Veanne Cox is tartly right as Henry's art dealer. I had a bit of trouble with
         Gary Schweig's initial presentation of Pike. At first, his inarticulateness seemed false
         and amateurish, but as the film progressed, he grew into the part.

                 BIG EDEN posits a world where there is no bigotry or homophobia. While one
         can only dream of such a place in real life, the fictional town isn't such a bad place
         to spend some time.

                                                    Rating:                     B-
                                                    MPAA Rating:         PG-13 for some mature thematic material
                                                    Running time:         118 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.