LGBT Movies: Big Eden (2000)

A self-loathing artist (Arye Gross) returns to his rural home to care for his ailing grandfather. He’s soon pining for his high school crush and ignoring the attentions of a pathologically shy store clerk (Eric Schweig). He expects homophobia but a Hallmark town full of condescending locals is eager to play match maker. The idyllic rural setting makes Big Eden stand out. The mopey central couple and languid pace bring it down. White Collar’s Tim DeKay brings some beefcake and mystery as the former high school heartthrob filled with regrets and confusion. He provides the film with its most powerful and heartbreaking scenes.

You can stream the film here before or after reading my spoiler filled recap.

Act One: Going Home

Grandpa (George Coe) drags Henry (Arye Gross) to church.

NEW YORK FRIEND: I can’t believe you skipped your gallery show to visit Montana.
HENRY (an artist): My grandpa had a stroke. He needs me to look after him.
GRANDPA: I’m crotchety.
COMICAL WIDOW: I’ll cook for your grandpa while he recovers. Here’s a mystery meat casserole!
PIKE (a shy store clerk): That food’s gross. I’ll cook Henry gourmet meals and say they’re from the widow. Because I’m trapped in adolescence.
DEAN (high school crush): Henry! I’ve missed you SO MUCH! Why haven’t you kept in touch?
WOKE TOWNSFOLK: Looks like Henry and Pike are closeted homosexuals. Can we help them get together?

Act Two: The Way to a Man’s Heart

Dean (Tim DeKay) sends Henry (Arye Gross) mixed signals.

HENRY: Your meals are fantastic!
COMICAL WIDOW: Thank you dear! Let me introduce you to some eligible bachelors. There’s no Grindr so I had to really dig.
HENRY: But I thought nobody knew I was gay!
DEAN: Everyone knows. I’m the one who’s sending mixed signals. Let’s go swimming in our underwear, then dance at the town picnic! (They do.)
HENRY: I still love you after decades apart. Because I’m trapped in adolescence.  
(DEAN kisses HENRY. Then freaks out.)
DEAN: I’m sorry! I know you want this but I’m barely a Kinsey 2!
HENRY: Then stop stringing me along!
DEAN: You were my best friend! And you cut me out of your life because I couldn’t be your fantasy! I should probably be over this but I’m trapped in adolescence!
(DEAN storms off, has a break down, then immediately finds a girlfriend.)
WOKE TOWNSFOLK: We sure love this gay drama! But why are there still 30 minutes of film left?

Act Three: Can we wrap this up already?

Pike (Eric Schweig) tries to speak to Henry (Arye Gross).

GRANDPA: Can we stop pretending I don’t know you’re gay? (Dies.)
HENRY: I’m starting to realize you like me Pike. But I’m flying back to New York. (Leaves.)
WOKE TOWNSFOLK: Pike, you need to grow up and tell him how you feel!
PIKE: But I can barely string two words together!
(Pike races to the airport. But the plane has left. He returns home to find Henry waiting.)
HENRY: I finally figured out you’ve been cooking those meals. Wanna be my rebound?
(Pike kisses Henry.)

THE END

Teenage Dreams

Pike (Eric Schweig) and Henry (Arye Gross) are embraced by the town.

The film was always a fantasy about looking at the best of what is possible.

Thomas Bezucha, Writer/Director

‘Gay man visits his rural hometown’ has been a premise for stories of angst (Crazy All These Years, Counting for Thunder) and horror (Cthulu, Take me to the River). It’s rare to see him embraced like a Hallmark heroine. Still, there’s a darkness to this romcom that the film doesn’t want to explore. It keeps me from embracing the town’s whimsical charms. That, and the pacing of the third act is terrible.

The conflict comes from internalized homophobia. The leads are trapped in glass closets and obsessed with their high school crushes. Henry claims he’s been a “whole person” in New York but his behavior suggests otherwise. Pike’s been near-silent for 30 years. He won’t maintain a relationship with food alone. Tim’s unsure of what he wants. His desperate attempt to keep Henry’s friendship grows tragic. If he truly is a closeted homosexual, as Henry suspects, his story grows even sadder.

The comedy comes from the townsfolk. They’re not only accepting but enthusiastic matchmakers. Some critics couldn’t wrap their heads around this conceit in 2000. They’re plausible in 2020 but I can see why Henry finds them stifling. He claims he’s been in therapy for years. He’ll need a lot more if he’s going to uproot his life to date a deeply repressed stranger.  

You can listen to the Bad Gay Movies podcast on this film here. For more reviews of LGBT media click here.