My Own Private Idaho
By Sierra Filucci,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Delicate portrayal of street hustlers has heavy themes.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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).
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Frequent cursing throughout, including "f--k."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Hustlers, including the main characters, smoke, drink, and use drugs frequently.
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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").
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Where to Watch
Based on 2 parent reviews
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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.
Talk to Your Kids 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?
- In theaters: September 21, 1991
- On DVD or streaming: March 1, 2005
- Cast: James Russo, Keanu Reeves, River Phoenix
- Director: Gus Van Sant
- Inclusion Information: Polynesian/Pacific Islander actors
- Studio: Criterion Collection
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, nudity, strong sexual content, profanity.
- Last updated: October 8, 2022
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