After writing about queer cinema for more than a decade, it's probably no surprise to learn that one of the most frequent questions I'm asked is what my favorite gay movie is. Without hesitation I answer "Big Eden," out writer-director Thomas Bezucha's delightful 2000 debut feature. ( My favorite gay documentary is 1995's The Celluloid Closet, by the by. )
Bezucha's film is the story of Henry Hart ( Arye Gross ), a painter living in Manhattan who returns home to the fictional, bucolic small town of Big Eden, Montana, to care for his ailing grandfather ( Henry Coe ). Once there, Henry finds that his best friend from high schoolthe super-cute hunk Dean ( Tim DeKay )has also returned home to raise his young son after the death of his wife.
Henry's infatuation with Dean is immediately rekindled but everybody in townfrom his aunt Grace ( Louise Fletcher ) to gruff teddy bear Jim ( O'Neal Compton ), the general store owner, to the Widow Thayer ( Nan Mason )works behind the scenes once they figure out Henry is gay to put him together with the man they've decided is his destiny. That would be Pike ( Eric Schweig ), the painfully shy Native American who cooks gourmet meals for Henry's ailing grandpa and silently yearns for Henry.
This quiet little comedy of manners is one of the sweetest, most satisfying movies a true romantic is likely to encounter ( I dubbed it a "gay Sense & Sensibility" ) and the film's lovely reputation has only grown in the years since its release. To mark Big Eden's 15th anniversary, Wolfe Releasing has just brought out a newly restored edition of the film on Blu-ray and VOD. Bezucha, who went on to write and direct the 2005 holiday film The Family Stone and 2011's Monte Carlo, was happy to reminisce about the film that was tagged "a little miracle" and to chat about his new movie in this exclusive interview for Windy City Times. Excerpts:
Windy City Times: I hope this isn't a pejorativebut my all-time favorite "gay movie" is Big Eden.
Thomas Bezucha: Well, I don't care if it is a pejorativethank you! I'll take it.
WCT: I know when you made the film in 2000, to call something a "gay movie" was a badge of honor. Now, sometimes that's a bit problematic for people. Where do you stand with that?
TB: It's a little different when it's your kid, you know. I wish it could run faster, I wish it were a little brighter, but I'm happy. It's crazy how the culture has changed for gay film in 15 years but it's also changed for independent film. Better for gay film, not so good for independent film. It's just harder to get things made. Here's the thing: Fifteen years later, I can't believe it got made, let alone people are talking about it. That's satisfaction itself.
WCT: I think the reason why the film resonates so strongly still begins with your beautifully written script. It's wonderfully directed and your castmy God, it's a wonderful assemblage of actors. You must have had tremendous casting people.
TB: The casting director, David Bloch, did such a spectacular job; I love that guy to pieces. He brought all those people to me. I got lucky. The trick was creating this family and each of them is such a strong element and it influences the whole. You have Louise ( Fletcher ) in this one part and then you have to figure out who the Widow Thayer is in another and we were lucky enough to find Nan Martin.
WCT: And she's amazing in the filmfunny lady originally from Decatur, Illinois.
TB: She would smoke maybe three packs of cigarettes a day, tapping them into an ashtray the size of a hubcap, and everybody was always like, "Has Nan eaten today?" We would try to get her to eat and every take she would turn to me and say, "Well, I think that was it; that was fantastic." And I was, like, "Well, yeah that was good, could we please do one more?" [Laughs]
WCT: Is the very sweet story of Big Eden somewhat biographical?
TB: Not really. I was living in New York and I worked for Ralph Lauren, designing stores. I did that for about 10 years. I had always wanted to be involved in film and at that moment in time I was thinking, "Oh, if I could get into production design…" and so I decided that the best way to do thatI'm not terribly bright [laughs]was to write a script; that would be the shortest path.
I wanted to change my life and get involved with film. I wasn't quite happy with my life and, aside from the film, there was just a general fantasy of changing my life and a couple of things all happened within a year that led me to Big Eden. I discovered the music of Dwight Yoakam; [also,] I read a book by Ian Fraser called The Great Plains and went on a business trip to Cody, Wyoming, for a cowboy auction and just fell in love with the West. So if there's a germ, it started there.
I had this idea of moving to Montana to teach elementary school and all my friends were saying, "You're nuts. You can't do that," and so Big Eden was a little bit of a "What if?" What if you could, what if people weren't homophobic, what if they were great, what if, what if? And so that was a way of spinning out that fantasy.
WCT: Several years ago, I had a webisode show called "Movie Queens." On one of the episodes ,each of the hosts discussed a favorite, little known "gay" movieand I talked about Big Eden.
TB: Oh, I want to see that!
WCT: I'll send that to you ... but the reason I mention it is because after describing how the whole town tries to put Henry and Pike together, rooting for them, the guy I was talking with says, "So, it's a fantasy."
TB: It is, it is.
WCT: Well, it was at that time but, 15 years later, that's reality in many parts of this country, right?
TB: I think it's reality when you enough good-hearted people together. Big Eden exists wherever there are people of good will.
WCT: Now where do you think Henry and Pike are today?
TB: If there were a sequel, we always sort of speculated that they hung around Big Eden a little while and then got bored. [Also, we thought] that Pike's cooking thing really took off for him so they moved to New York for him to go to cooking school, and they opened a restaurant.
WCT: So this new Blu-ray edition of the filmare there new special features?
TB: They produced a new featurette with Louise Fletcher, Tim DeKay, Arye Gross, myself and Eric Schweig all talking about the movie. It's incredibly moving to me that those people who I didn't pay very much are all still willing to talk about the movie 15 years later.
WCT: What are you working on now?
TB: I've got a bunch of different studio projects but I'm really most excited because I'm working with a longtime pal, Maria Maggenti, who wrote and directed The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love. We were arrested together in 1989 during an ACT UP demonstration in New York and we've been getting together lately and talking about the '80s, and so we're writing a comedy that's pretty gay from the '80s.
WCT: Fantastic! Fifteen years on, you're getting ready to do another "gay" movie. How has the landscape changed for queer cinema?
TB: I wish there were more gay-themed films; I wish there were more films by gay filmmakers; I wish there were better films, period. I wish there were more films about real people, and not 300-foot robots and superheroes.
But at the same time, for gay film, what's exciting to me is that, unlike 15 years ago, there are out gay actors. You have people like Zach Quinto and Matt Bomerand, God bless, Jodie Foster finally came outand it's going to be interesting the next 15 years to see what kind of mainstream films incorporate those elements and to see where we are then, right? It's exciting.