Directed by Thomas Bezucha. Starring Arye Gross, Eric Schweig, Nan Martin, O'Neal Compton, Louise Fletcher, George Coe, Tim Dekay, Corinne Bohrer. (2000, PG-13, 118 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Sept. 7, 2001
The instant he returns home to his boyhood cabin in the sylvan hamlet of Big Eden, Montana, Henry Hart (Gross) jumps out the back door and into the glassy lake behind the house, fully clothed. Big Eden is just that kind of a place. Flannel-clad good ol' boys with clattertrap trucks loiter around the beer-'n-bait coolers at Dexter's General Store, the rivers are teeming with trout, and Sunday services at the community church dovetail into potluck suppers, sing-alongs at the piano, and beers at the tavern before suppertime. It's light years away from Henry's adopted hometown -- Manhattan -- where his officious art dealer (Veanne Cox) awaits, needling Henry about the important gallery exhibit he forsook to care for his grandfather (Coe), who has recently suffered a stroke. Of course, the audience knows there's plenty in store for Henry back home, including self-discovery, family bonding, and a possible romance with either his all-American ex (DeKay), who's now a single father, or with the general store's tactiturn owner, Pike (Schweig). A gentle giant who brings the cooking-impaired Hart boys homemade meals from the town's resident busybody (Martin, battle-axe Mrs. Louder from The Drew Carey Show), Pike is soon pitching woo timidly, ordering exotic gouaches for Henry and browsing torte recipes from Epicurious. The film is every bit as sweet as it sounds, cheerful, charming, and amiable from start to finish. (A soundtrack of country chestnuts -- from George Jones and Buck Owens to Jim Reeves -- is a nice bonus.) The colorful townsfolk are all fine, if a bit undifferentiated from each other (though the lovably ursine Compton makes a nice impression). Coe and Gross have a nicely acted moment that's the closest thing to a “coming out” scene, and in a funny set-piece, matchmaker Martin arranges a surprise get-together for Gross and every eligible bachelor from Missoula to Wolf Point. Yet as wonderful as it is to see a breezy, earnest romantic comedy that is so matter-of-factly gay-themed, Big Eden suffers somewhat, unsurprisingly, from some of the usual perils of a breezy, earnest romantic comedy. The love-triangle storyline is drawn out awfully far for such a lightweight plot, and the whimsical country milieu is rather ... well, whimsical at times. Some urban reviewers have faulted writer-director Bezucha for depicting a rural America in which homophobia is virtually nonexistent, but that criticism seems misplaced. Big Eden is content to be a good-natured dramedy about finding your place in the world and finding someone to share it with.