My Own Private Idaho (1991)



Critic Consensus: A tantalizing glimpse of a talented director and his stars all at the top of their respective games, Gus Van Sant's loose reworking of Henry IV is smart, sad and audacious.

Movie Info

A road movie fused with elements of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, Gus Van Sant's third feature is a surreal, elliptical meditation on love and power. River Phoenix stars as Mike Waters, a young street hustler who suffers from narcolepsy, whose search for the mother who abandoned him leads him across the Northwestern U.S. and even Italy. Mike is joined by Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), the bisexual son of the mayor of Portland, Oregon with whom Mike falls in love.

Rating: R
Genre: Art House & International, Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Gus Van Sant
In Theaters:
On DVD: Mar 1, 2005
Fine Line Features


as Mike Waters

as Scott Favor

as Richard

as Carmella

as Budd

as Italian Street Boy

as Jack Favor

as Hans

as Jane Lightwork

as Daddy Carroll

as Coverboy

as Coverboy/Cafe Kid

as Coverboy

as Sharon Waters

as Cafe Kid

as Cafe Kid

as Bad George

as Indian Cop

as Baby Mike

as Little Richard

as Disco Manager

as Rock Promoter

as Rock Promoter

as Rock Promoter

as Rock Promoter

as Mayor's Aide

as Airline Clerk

as Stewardess

as Lounge Hostess

as Yuppie at Jake's

as Himself

as Italian Street Boy

as Italian Street Boy

as Italian Street Boy

as Italian Street Boy

as Mike's Italian Clien...

as Mean Kid (uncredited...
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for My Own Private Idaho

All Critics (54) | Top Critics (17)

A simultaneously heartbreaking and exhilarating road movie.

Full Review… | June 2, 2014
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Holding all these elements together is Van Sant's sensibility, such an elusive thing it instinctively squirms away from any attempt to pigeonhole it.

Full Review… | June 2, 2014
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

Although River Phoenix has distinguished himself as an actor ever since his second film, Stand By Me, nothing he has ever done before prepares you for his performance in Private Idaho as the motherless, homeless, loveless piece of human driftwood.

Full Review… | June 2, 2014
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

This is a very rich, very sympathetic piece of work.

Full Review… | June 2, 2014
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

[Van Sant] disdain[s] narrative. He got away with Drugstore Cowboy because its band of drugged-out dodoes were engaged in a petty crime spree that almost passed for a plot. But My Own Private Idaho is a different story. Or rather nonstory.

Full Review… | June 2, 2014
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

One of the most original cinematic talents at work in this country, Van Sant has a knack for pulling disparate elements together and twisting them into wildly funny lyrical odysseys of the mind and heart.

Full Review… | June 2, 2014
Seattle Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for My Own Private Idaho


Once in a while, I do enjoy Gus Van Sant, who, for me, is a lot like Steven Soderbergh: really versatile, talented, and definitely important. This movie has been on my list of films to see since I first wrote it over five years ago. Yes, I'm serious. I'm not sure why it took me so long to finally see it, but I'm glad I finally did.

Allegedly this is supposed to be loosely based on the Shakespeare works Henry IV Parts I and II and Henry V, but I didn't really see that. Of course, it would probably help if I was actually familiar with those works, but still. Okay, so sometimes the dialogue does come off as somewhat Shakespearean because of the delivery, but I really don't see the whole thing of translating historical dramas into a dream-like road movie about two hustlers.

We mostly follow Mike Waters, a sensitive young street hustler with narcolepsy. He works the streets of Portland and Seattle, but longs to find his mother who abandoned him at a young age. His search leads him to all kinds of places, namely Idaho (where he's originally from), but overseas as well. Joining him on his quest for "home" is Scott Favor the unrequited love interest. Scott, like Mike, is a hustler, but he's from a more well-to-do background. In fact, he's the wayward son of Portland's mayor. He says he'll eventually straighten up and do as his father wishes, but for the time being, he's happy being on the mean streets with all kinds of colorful characters.

The film was a rather big deal when it came out, and I can see why. It sheds light on an interesting subculture, it's got some mostly strong direction, great visuals, it continued Van Sant's wave of success, and featured some terrific performances from River Phoenix as Mike and, yes, shockingly enough, Keanu Reeves as Scott. I don't know what happened to him that caused him to be how he is now, but yeah, back in the day, he was actually a credible and legitimately good performer. Other performers are good too, but these guys are the real highlight.

Even though this is a good movie, and I can see why it has a very positive reputation, it's not perfect. It's merely good, instead of great, hasn't really aged that well, doesn't seem that fresh anymore, and has a tendency to meander a little too much a little too often. It does provide a nice and sensible look at Gen X hustlers, but even then it comes off as a tad pretentious here and there.

Despite my gripes, I do like this, I'm glad I finally saw it, and think you should check it out if you enjoy the offbeat, or want to really get into the career of Van Sant.

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

A strong beginning that becomes a bit cryptic towards the end, My Own Private Idaho is a respectable piece of film and is pure Van Sant. The poetic dialogue in some scenes mixed in with River Phoenix's narcolepsy brings a story that develops unusual characters and a excellent adventure.

paul o.
paul oh

Super Reviewer

Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho is less a film about the physical and more about the spiritual. Loosely based on Shakespeare, it's a beautifully-shot independent film with something to say. I can't really admit that I liked the film all that much. It takes a while to get going and there are long pauses where it seems like nothing's happening, but as an art film (which is what I consider it to be), it works very well. Both River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves give great performances amidst the backdrop of street hustling, the open road, Italy and the Idaho countryside. It's probably not a film for everybody, but the general consensus is that it's very well-received by most people, so it may be a bit broader than I would expect it to be. Although I have to say, I think a lot of that has to do with the sex appeal of its two young actors. Perhaps that's just me, but I'm sure it has something to do with it. It's a good film, but not one I'd watch over and over again.

Tim Salmons

Super Reviewer

My Own Private Idaho Quotes

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– Submitted by Andrea M (22 months ago)
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– Submitted by Peter G (2 years ago)

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