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My Own Private Idaho (Fine Line Features, 1991)

Gus Van Sant (writer and director) originally wrote the script in the 70s, but set it aside after reading John Rechy’s 1963 novel City of Night, which Van Sant felt tackled the subject of street hustlers better. Over time, he rewrote the script and decided to seek Hollywood financing. The script ended up in the hands of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves who both agreed. (Van Sant at one point thought about making the film himself and casting actual street kids.)

The film premiered at the 1991 Venice Film Festival to mostly positive reviews. Phoenix won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor. At the 1991 Toronto Film Festival, the film won the Showtime International Critics Award. Phoenix also received Best Male Lead from the Independent Spirit Awards and Best Actor from the National Society of Film Critics.

Phoenix plays Mike, a shy, gay hustler who struggles with narcolepsy. Reeves plays Scott, a well-to-do kid who chooses to live in such a manner to embarrass his father. The boys travel to Italy to find Mike’s MIA mother. They return to the U.S. separately and meet up again later after Scott inherits money from his father.

My Own Private Idaho was released theatrically in 98 theatres in September 1991 and grossed $6.4 million in North America.

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