New York artist Henry Hart (Arye Gross) returns to his childhood home of Big Eden, Montana, to see his ailing grandfather (George Coe). While there, he must also deal with seeing the great unrequited love of his life, Dean (Tim DeKay), as well as the burgeoning affections of Pike (Eric Schweig), a painfully shy Native American who runs the general store.
Big Eden has a simple enough plot, but first-time writer-director Thomas Bezucha has endowed it with the twinkly winsomeness of a fairy tale. The residents of Big Eden are like flesh-and-blood Old School Disney characters come to life: homespun, big-hearted and full of that certain cozy country humor. There's not even the slightest whiff of homophobia as they openly embrace, not only Henry, but a very lesbian-chic, be-denimed couple already in their midst. Why, even the geezers who perpetually hang out at Pike's store are dubbed the seven dwarves. This film has already won numerous audience awards on the gay film festival circuit, and it's the very kind of self-congratulatory wish fulfillment you'd expect to triumph over willingly susceptible crowds in the hinterlands, as well as cynical city types who yet yearn for more natural settings, especially as envisioned by Bezucha, a former retail-display director. With all of the rough-hewn interiors, Native American decorator accents, dream kitchens, and verdantly mountainous backdrops, it could safely be said that he has done his former employer, Ralph Lauren, proud.
Big Eden is politically correct to a fault, but while we're on that tack, one can question why Pike is the only person of color you see, as well as his presentation as exotic love object, besides being so terminally withdrawn--as stiff as the proverbial cigar-store Indian--that he needs a whole townful of understanding "great white fathers" to guide him through his personal turmoil. Or, for that matter, the servile position he is put into, whipping up, in secret, fabulous meals to burrow his way into Henry's heart. A crew of rednecks, who might be better off hunting or fishing, cluck sympathetically like a bunch of biddies over his unexpressed desire for Henry, and more jaded souls may just want to scream, "You all need to get a life!" Things really become thick at the finale, which has Pike doing one of those Graduate romantic chases after a New York-bound Henry, just missing the plane, and returning, bereft, only to find his man waiting for him among the happily complicitous "dwarves." ("Yeah, we sure put another one over on the Injun, Paw!")
Henry is quite the belle of the town--Scarlett at the barbecue--but as essayed by Gross, one rather wonders why. (More wish fulfillment?) It's not only his physical unprepossessingness, but the whiny, wimpy way in which he plays him. Granted, Bezucha's script is not much help, but there's also an air of smug, urban superiority which Henry retains throughout that would seem off-putting, not only to audiences, but to the other onscreen characters, as well. Henry is also cowardly about coming out to his beloved Grandpa (who, of course, already knows), and this is but one more alienating effect which Gross' performance doesn't quite overcome. Schweig is stoically handsome and manfully retains his dignity throughout, but withal, is pretty unbelievable as any kind of gay man. The best performance is given by DeKay, who endows Dean with the muddied complexity of a man terrified of losing his childhood best friend, totally willing, and yet totally unable, to be homosexual himself.