My Own Private Idaho Movie Poster Image

My Own Private Idaho



Delicate portrayal of street hustlers has heavy themes.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1991
  • Running Time: 104 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Rather than a film with a strong message, this is more a meditation on loneliness and abandonment. Each character is seeking love, attachment, and wholeness, which is an elusive goal for everyone.

Positive role models

The main characters are lost souls who have experienced deep pain in their pasts. They are certainly not role models, but serve somewhat as warnings for what might be on the other side of a "normal" life. There are elements of the street-kid life that seem romantic in this film, which parents may want to discuss with teens.


Mike's father hits him several times in a drunken rage. Some mild pushing, fighting. The prostitution scenes verge on dangerous territory, though none are violent.


Many scenes of prostitution where a sex act between two men is occurring just barely off screen -- sometimes the camera focuses on a face only. A few sex scenes -- a threesome between men and a heterosexual couple -- feature frozen scenes of naked bodies engaged in sex acts (though only female breasts and backsides are shown).


Frequent cursing throughout, including "f--k."

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Hustlers, including the main characters, smoke, drink, and use drugs frequently.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this arty and heartfelt film about street hustlers contains frequent references to and sometimes scenes of gay male prostitution, though genitals are never on screen (aside from a few brief shots of naked female breasts). The hustlers in the film use drugs (cocaine) and alcohol frequently, and they also steal and lie to each other. There is frequent cursing throughout ("f--k").

Parents say

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What's the story?

Mike (River Phoenix) and Scott (Keanu Reeves) are two street hustlers in Portland who struggle through life on the streets, selling their bodies, partying, and fighting their personal demons. While Scott's decision to be a hustler is a rebellious act against his wealthy and powerful father, Mike's is more of a desperate attempt at survival. He dreams constantly of his long-lost mother. When Mike and Scott go traveling in an attempt to find Mike's mother, they meet up with Mike's abusive father and then end up in Italy following his mother's trail. There Scott falls in love with a woman, leaving Mike alone and deeply saddened at the loss of his friend and intimate.

Is it any good?


Both River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves carry strong performances in this unusual and poignant film. Though Reeves sometimes struggles to immerse himself fully into the character, his screen presence is riveting. Phoenix, on the other hand, is completely enveloped by his character, creating scenes of deep emotion and tenderness. His performance underscores the tragedy of his later death. The portrayal of the street hustling scene is fascinating to outsiders -- showing both the sadness and danger inherent in the life, as well as touching on the freedom experienced by those who have given up traditional life. Still, this is heavy stuff for most teens, so parents might want to prepare for some follow-up discussion.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what drives the different characters to lead lives of hustling. How are Mike and Scott's reasons similar and different? What do you think about their definitions of sexuality -- are the hustlers gay, straight, or something else?

  • Talk about how the film portrays life on the street. Are there parts of the lifestyle that seem fun or romantic? How close to reality does the film portray life on the streets? What isn't shown?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 21, 1991
DVD/Streaming release date:March 1, 2005
Cast:James Russo, Keanu Reeves, River Phoenix
Director:Gus Van Sant
Studio:Criterion Collection
Run time:104 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:violence, nudity, strong sexual content, profanity.

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Teen, 16 years old Written byRiverPhoenix August 13, 2013

Immaculate Perfection.

My Own Private Idaho was a fantastic, emotional film centered around rebellion and self discovery. That being said, it's not the type of film you want to sit down with your kids and watch - drugs, sex, profanity, violence, you name it. It's a movie about a gang of street hustlers who sell their bodies for money - come on, does this sound like a family movie? Cocaine snorting, alcohol drinking, cigarette smoking, uses of the F word, a mugging, a gunshot, a couple fight scenes, a little blood, male prostitution, oral sex, gay porno magazines (nothing explicit), two men have sex under the covers, three men have sex shown in still images, a man and woman have sex shown in still images... Do you still want to watch this movie with your kids? Don't get me wrong, it's not just smut, it's a really superb film, I highly recommend you watch.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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