Like most Americans (well, the women and gay men, anyway), I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy. Give me Meg Ryan tippity-typing away with Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts selling her love to Richard Gere and I’m quite content, thank you (and if Julia’s got a gay best friend and is trying to stop a wedding, even better). The promise of witnessing true love blossom against all odds always lures me in, despite ridiculously improbable situations and endings as predictable as Lady Bunny’s act.
Now, as America tiptoes toward equal rights for all, it’s only fair that gays get their share of unabashedly sentimental romance flicks. Stepping eagerly up to the plate, Big Eden adds another name to a short but growing list of homo romantic comedies. In it, Henry (Ellen’s Arye Gross), a New York artist, is forced to return to his Montana hometown to take care of his ailing grandfather. For Henry, returning to Big Eden means facing the object of his unrequited love, the closeted Dean (Tim DeKay), who’s now divorced and raising two young boys. Meanwhile, Henry is the unknowing recipient of someone else’s affection – Pike (Eric Schweig), the owner of Big Eden’s general store.
To call the town of Big Eden idyllic would be a severe understatement. A pastoral hamlet filled with a loveable lot of quirky citizens (think Northern Exposure meets Queer as Folk, complete with token lesbian couple), the entire population – about 20 or so people, it seems, including a single-mother mayor – is homo-friendly and ultra-liberal. When the local yokels who hang out at Pike’s store realize that not only is Pike gay but he has fallen for Henry, they merrily add their bumbling support to his pursuit. But the stoic Pike is much too shy to express his feelings to Henry, so the obligatory waiting game ensues as Henry chases Dean, who coyly flirts back. Still, with the whole town rallying behind Pike, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who Henry will end up with.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Corny and formulaic straight romantic comedies are a dime a dozen, and most are far worse than Big Eden (The Wedding Planner pops instantly into mind, as does anything starring Sandra Bullock). Yes, Big Eden is a sappy, softhearted love story; a Nora Ephron-esque date movie for the same-sex crowd. But, turnabout being fair play and all, cinematic gay schmaltz is definitely a welcome step in the right – i.e. mainstream – direction.