On this last day of Pride Month, and as part of my movie-watching for TGGeeks I’ve decided to take a look at movies for the LGBTQ community that have probably flown under most people’s radar, and this time I’m going to examine the 2000 romantic comedy, Big Eden.
Imagine a small town where the community is practically idyllic and everyone is accepted and loved unconditionally. Is this a place where you would want to live? Is this a place you could ever think of leaving?
Artist Henry Hart (Arye Gross) lives in New York City and is becoming very successful at his craft. He’s about to have an opening at an art gallery when he learns that his grandfather (George Coe) has had a stroke. He drops everything and flies back to the tiny community he grew up in, Big Eden, Montana. He’s welcomed by everyone who sees him (they don’t care that Henry is gay), especially that of his boyhood crush, Dean Stewart (Tim DeKay). The only person who seems to be on edge at Henry’s return is Pike Dexter, the owner/manager of the local market. Unfortunately, Henry’s feelings for Dean have resurfaced and he doesn’t fully understand where he stands with him. He’s also very puzzled as to why Pike reacts uncomfortably around him. After staying there for several months he starts to think that maybe he should leave and go back to New York.
Keith and I had the pleasure of watching this independent movie at a Gay/Lesbian Film Festival back in 2000 with the writer/director Thomas Bezucha in attendance. With movies that paint disturbing pictures regarding traumatic coming out stories, people dying of AIDS, or fighting against homophobia, to see a movie that was utterly void of any of these issues was both bold and refreshing. What we have here is a small-town community that accepts everyone for who they are. There are gay and lesbian couples that walk freely and openly amongst one another. All of them are entirely comfortable in their own skin except for Henry. He is dealing with shame on such a level that he continually runs away from people who want to love him. Even Dean, whose sexuality clearly sits in the “Q” of LGBTQ, desperately wants to be close to Henry, even if it isn’t the romantic relationship that Henry wanted it to be. All Henry wants to do is run away. He fails to realize that the paradise he has longed for has been right there all along. This is what makes Big Eden such a bold movie. It’s easy to write a story where such a paradise exists, but to write and to find a way to keep it interesting is the challenge. Even with practically perfect characters everywhere you turn Bezucha found a way to make them believable and interesting. Writing a movie about a place such as Big Eden could easily have fallen flat. Instead, it succeeds on such a level that it almost makes me want to live there myself.
Big Eden is a romantic comedy and everyone has a chance to let their comedic talents shine, not the least of which is a secondary character referred to as Widow Thayer, and beautifully played by Nan Martin. This sweet lady is a force of nature. She leaves disaster in her wake and she does so with the biggest heart and all the love she can muster. Two other secondary characters are that of Henry’s grandfather Sam and the local schoolteacher Grace (Louise Fletcher). Both of them help to provide the voice of reason that Henry desperately needs to hear. The unconditional love and compassion that they both share is a message that needs to be heard by everyone today. People should never be taught shame and they need to open themselves up to the possibilities of love that other people wish to pour on them.
The primary players are also wonderfully cast for this movie, starting with Gross as Henry. He projects a certain awkward clumsiness that highlights how uncomfortable Henry has become with himself. Gross displays a wonderfully wide range of emotions throughout the movie that helps to give a sense of realism to how complex Henry is as a character.
DeKay as Dean is another fascinating character who serves a purpose that is possibly years ahead of its time. This is the first time in a movie that I can remember seeing where we have a main character of the “Questioning” part of LGBTQ. DeKay portrays Dean with a beautiful sense of integrity and honesty that should serve as a wake-up call for all of us in how we treat those who find themselves as part of the “Q.”
Probably the most touching character of the primary cast is Eric Schweig as Pike Dexter. Schweig is a big American Indian actor who walks with a sense of grace despite his large stature. Schweig shows a tender vulnerability to Pike that makes him immediately lovable. Schweig also plays Pike with a type of guarded nature so that when he does lower his guard (which happens rarely throughout the movie) he shows the loving spirit that lives within Pike. Schweig does an amazing job of giving us that duality that makes up Pike’s character and personality.
Lastly, I have to give kudos to Veanne Cox as Mary Margaret Bishop, Henry’s agent. She isn’t on-screen very much, but when she is Cox delivers her with a slap-in-the-face type of humor and honesty that people sometimes need to hear. In short, Cox, along with Nan Martin, steal this movie.
I freely admit that I’m a big-city guy. I love the energy and variety that comes from living in Phoenix and having grown up near San Francisco for the first 30 years of my life has certainly spoiled me when it comes to big-city living. However, Big Eden presents us with something that no big city can offer. It presents us with a true sense of the words “community” and “family.” We all yearn to find that place where we can feel we belong. In the end, Henry Hart finally finds his place, and when he does he also finds himself. It is then that Henry knows happiness as well as love. I can only hope that we all find our own Big Eden.
For its beautiful characters, wonderful acting, and a community filled only with unconditional love and acceptance, I give Big Eden 5 out of 5 Tarts!!!
Big Eden can be found on Amazon Prime.