Five years before the landmark Brokeback Mountain, there was a little film that was that more famous movie’s flip side. Big Eden (2000), written and directed by openly gay filmmaker Thomas Bezucha, is an especially lovely, charming film fantasy. It takes on themes of friendship, love and gayness seen through a prism of highly idealized tolerance, acceptance, kindness, humor and tenderness.
Big Eden was a breakthrough film. At last, here was a project that depicted gay men of all shapes, sizes, and ages navigating the treacherous waters of love just like anyone else. It has no overwhelming tragedy and it avoided stereotypes without sidestepping its gayness.
When it was first released, before streaming, it flew under the radar of most LGBTQ film fans, and that’s a shame. It was noticed though; Big Eden did win awards at Gay and Lesbian film festivals: LA Outfest Audience Award, San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival Audience Award, and Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival Audience Award, and it was nominated for Best Film at the 2002 GLAAD Media Awards.
The film stars my friend Arye Gross as Henry Hart, a successful, but lonely gay artist who is reluctant to leave NYC and the life he has made for himself, but who returns to Big Eden, his small town in Montana, to take care of his grandfather. Henry is welcomed back by the citizens of his town, all of whom are aware that he is gay and are somehow accepting and supportive of him. The first time I saw it, I kept waiting for that moment of implied violence, but the film’s plot and dialogue are notably missing any homophobia. Henry is forced to confront his unresolved feelings for his childhood friend Dean, played by Tim DeKay, Matt Bomer’s sexy con artist partner on White Collar (2009-2014), while simultaneously beginning to fall in love with Pike Dexter, portrayed by handsome, tall Canadian actor Eric Schweig, the painfully, adorably shy Native-American owner of the town’s general store who has a longtime unrequited crush on Henry.
Big Eden is populated by a bunch of busybodies, blue-haired old ladies, and cowboy hat-wearing, porch-sitting men, and they all spend the entire film conspiring to help Pike, the only person in town who’s not white (there’s not a negative stereotype or joke in sight) get together with Henry.
Also in the cast: Louise Fletcher as Henry’s aunt, and George Coe as the grandfather.
I am not going to recount the plot, although it has a smart, knowing screenplay, instead I urge you to watch and just enjoy a first-rate gay-themed film that is not hyper-sexualized or over-the-top; that’s not an intense drama centered around characters dealing with coming out of the closet or thinking of suicide or dealing with HIV.
It’s a totally unrealistic love story, but it is also kind of magical, and we could all use a little magic in these especially cynical times, right? Sometimes, we all just need a little sweetness in our lives. Big Eden is filmed on location in Montana and the vistas are breathtaking. Oh, it features a terrific Country Music soundtrack too.
The love and support that every inhabitant of Big Eden share with other community members reminds us that family, friendship, love, and especially the acceptance of others, transcend generations, cultures and sexuality. The tolerance and benevolence in Big Eden unfortunately do not exist in reality, but making them as believable and beautiful on the screen, Bezucha really makes you wish to become a better human being. Watch it on a rainy night at home with a big bottle of robust red. It’s currently available in Netflix.