Even today, it can be difficult to find movies focused on LGBTQ characters where the focus isn’t on being LGBTQ. Many films with LGBTQ romances still focus heavily on themes such as coming out or falling in love in the face of adversity.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I find it personally more relatable when sexuality is acknowledged and feels like a part of the characters’ identities. The idea of sexuality being a non-issue doesn’t resonate much with my own experiences. My friends and I still struggle with how to figure out if people we find attractive might be attracted to us. We still worry sometimes about homophobic reactions if we gauge wrongly.
On the other hand, Hollywood has been slow to diversify how LGBTQ experiences are portrayed, and we could do with some more movies where being queer isn’t an “issue” at the heart of the narrative.
The 2000 film Big Eden (written and directed by Thomas Bezucha) falls somewhere in between.
Arye Gross stars as Henry, a successful gay artist in New York who has to return to his small hometown of Big Eden, Montana to care for ailing grandfather. Here, he reconnects with Dean (Tim DeKay), his old friend and crush who is (probably) straight. While Henry pines after Dean and faces the possibility of losing his grandfather, he doesn’t notice shy Native American shop-owner Pike (Eric Schweig), who is trying in his own quiet way to woo him.
It would be inaccurate to say that sexuality isn’t an issue in Big Eden. But notably, the person who makes the biggest deal about it is Henry himself. The other inhabitants of the small town are all accepting of Henry and Pike. Dean’s possible heteroflexibility doesn’t produce much angst. Big Eden is, well, a paradise where acceptance is more commonplace than you might expect. It’s not altogether realistic (though, as someone who needlessly hesitated to come out because of internalized fear of rejection, I can find Henry relatable), and it isn’t a perfectly made film. But it is refreshing. There aren’t a lot of movies about openly gay characters living in rural US towns. I can’t think of any other gay movie with a Native American lead. Nor do a lot of movies give love stories to gay male characters who are approaching middle age and who look more like average guys than models. Big Eden is like comfort food, the gay equivalent of a Hallmark movie.