NewFest featured Thomas Bezucha‘s 2000 film Big Eden for its virtual viewers. Out of the selection of films that made up the Queering the Canon: Rom-Coms, this is the only film I had seen beforehand. Big Eden is a romantic comedy that follows Henry (Arye Gross) as he returns to his small hometown in Big Eden, Montana, and the love triangle he unknowingly finds himself in.
Big Eden begins in New York City, where Henry Hart lives and works as a successful artist. He puts his new gallery show on pause to return to his hometown of Big Eden because his grandfather, Sam (George Coe), had a stroke. After returning, Henry is reunited with Dean (Tim DeKay), his high school crush.
Henry also meets Pike (Eric Schweig), a shy Native American man (and town store owner), who rapidly develops a crush on Henry. He literally learns how to cook for him, though Henry is completely oblivious to this. Henry navigates his feelings surrounding returning to Big Eden, his unrequited crush on Dean, his ailing grandfather, and town gossip throughout the film.
Things begin to get more complicated when Dean starts to show interest in Henry. Dean, who is recently divorced, was married to a woman and struggles to come to terms with his emotions surrounding Henry. Some of the townspeople become aware of Pike’s growing affection for Henry and encourage him to express his love.
Henry eventually finds out how Pike feels about him, and realizes that he feels the same. After a classic run through the airport (a romantic-comedy staple of the early 2000s) the two men come together and fall in love.
Big Eden is a very special film to me. Contrary to what we think of states like Montana, no one in the movie is homophobic. The movie exists in an almost dream-like state where all kinds of love are not only accepted, but encouraged. Consider films like Brokeback Mountain (2005, Ang Lee) which hinge on the world of the film denying queer love and ultimately ending in tragedy. Films like Big Eden subvert that notion and give queer couples the happiness and normalcy that their straight counterparts rarely need to take for granted.
While Big Eden is just a piece of media, I like to think that movies like it helped change the perceptions of queer love. They also gave queer audiences happy romance films to enjoy and be represented by, with little-to-no tragedy that is so rampant in other types of queer media.
interview with thomas bezucha
I was able to ask Thomas Bezucha, the writer/director of Big Eden, some questions about his debut film.
Since Big Eden was your first feature film, could you explain the filmmaking process? How was it affected by your own life and identity?
TB: “I didn’t go to film school, and I hadn’t worked in film in any capacity – I was blessed by my ignorance: I didn’t know how hard it was going to be and I didn’t understand the rules (or that there were rules). The production felt like putting on a play in the backyard, from my perspective. I was the amateur, only smart enough to surround myself with professionals.
Relating to my own identity, I shared what I think may be fairly common among gay men of a certain generation: the unrequited crush on a straight high schoolmate.”
In Big Eden, the tropes of the gay tragedy are subverted. How do you think queer media has transformed over time? Are you inspired by other queer artists?
TB: “The entire point of Big Eden for me was to try and subvert expectations; about queer desire, the reaction of a rural community to a gay love triangle playing out in front of them, ideas of masculinity in Marlboro country. I also wanted to see a gay film where someone didn’t have to die in the end.
I marvel at how far queer media has advanced: Big Eden now looks just as quaint as I’d always hoped it would over time, rather than a tale of “near science fiction” as one review described it 22 years ago. Now we’ve got Schitt’s Creek. But, history will tell you to never take this progress for granted – the political right is out to make us the boogey folks again. “Groomers.” That’s a term politicians used back in the days of Big Eden and why I wanted to make the movie.”
What obstacles and triumphs have you faced as a gay writer and director?
TB: “I don’t believe my identity as an out gay (white) man was any obstacle for my career, but the appetite for gay stories back then was very different than now. We also have out actors now. Back then, not a one.”