In 1991, the film My Own Private Idaho, starring River Phoenix (who would die two years later) and Keanu Reeves was released. It was one of the first films to feature two mainstream actors engaging in gay sex. The Gus Van Sant-directed drama has since become a cult classic and is considered by some critics to be one of the best American movies of the 90's.
So what does James Franco have to do with the project? The actor/student/soap star/writer/director seems to have something to do with just about everything. In the case of Idaho, Franco was so enamored with the film that he begged Van Sant to show him any raw footage from the production. This led to his development of My Own Private River, a reworking of the heartbreaking story.
The most disturbing thing about the film is River Phoenix. It is as though he has risen from the grave for one last performance. Furthermore, his brilliant work in Franco's cut cements just how unbelievably tragic his death was. Phoenix is breathtaking in each scene, even when he isn't saying or doing much.
Franco presented the film, which is too controversial for a mass release, to a packed house at New York's Lincoln Center Sunday evening. The initial version of the story offers a haunting foray into the lives of street hustlers. Mike (Phoenix) is a baby-faced drug addict who longs to be reunited with his mother.
His best friend Scott (Reeves) is merely dabbling in homeless life as he waits for his father to die and leave him an inheritance. Mike is irreversibly in love with Scott and in a painful-to-watch confession, he tells him so. But Scott is only gay for hire and thus Mike is subjected to hopeless longing and jealousy.
All the while, he can be likened to a young child. In one scene, just before he's about to put out for money, he can barely tear himself away from the cartoons that play on TV. His laugh is youthful and innocent as is his demeanor.
In reality, Phoenix and Reeves (who also co-starred in I Love You to Death) were incredibly close and this is abundantly clear when watching the film. Franco's My Own Private River adds a brand new take (literally) on the dynamic between the two.
In a question-and-answer session following the film, Franco revealed that his original cut was 12 hours long. That version is now being kept from the public at the request of Joaquin Phoenix (River's Oscar-nominated brother).
For now, the film has been shelved but for a few exclusive showings. Franco has no plans to distribute the film as he does not want to compete with the original or face legal action from New Line Cinema, which distributed 'Idaho'.