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Big Eden

(2001) ** 1/2 Pg-13
118 min. Jour de Fête. Director: Thomas Bezucha. Cast: Arye Gross, Louise Fletcher, Eric Schweig, Tim DeKay, George Coe.

Summer is the season of idealization, depicting worlds that tend to be just a bit too good to be true. For escapists, Big Eden offers gentle, charming romantic "dramedy". First-time writer-director Thomas Bezucha (and former vice-president at Ralph Lauren) displays a winning touch with his ensemble cast of undervalued character actors.

Arye Gross (once a regular on Ellen) stars as Henry, a New York artist who goes home to rural Montana to tend to the ailing grandfather (George Coe) who raised him. Henry is gay, but not "out" to most of Big Eden, Montana, which complicates the matchmaking efforts of the town busybodies. Further complicating matters, Henry has held a torch for his old friend Dean (Tim DeKay) for years but also catches the eye of demure general store owner Pike (Eric Schweig).

Bezucha's intelligent script is ably brought to life by the cast (also including Louise Fletcher and a lively Nan Martin) and cinematographer Rob Sweeney. All make Big Eden seem like an idyllic place to live. The universal acceptance of gay romance in rural Montana might stretch credulity, but the film's lack of interest in the issue is probably for the best. As it is, Big Eden offers old-fashioned, character-based comedy, drama, and romance, and it's difficult and pointless to resist these simple pleasures. Bezucha's rookie error is needlessly prolonging the film with repetitive dramatic beats; at two hours, the film is too much of a good thing. Nevertheless, Big Eden is a lovely summer vacation spot.

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