A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Big Eden" tells a story of gay love in a small Montana town where the residents are so accepting of homosexuality that the old coots around the cracker barrel at the general store rush to the window to monitor the progress of a triangle involving the local hunk, the artist feller from New York, and a tall, silent Indian. Earlier, the Widow Thayer, who failed to fix up the New Yorker with the local girls, discovers her error and throws a party so he can meet the local boys.
This is the same Montana that's next door to Wyoming, where a gay man named Matthew Shepard was murdered not long ago. Or rather, it is not the same Montana, but some kind of movie fantasy world in which all the local folk know and approve of the fact that Henry Hart (Arye Gross) is gay; by the end of the film, they're ready to use crowbars on the door to Henry's closet. This is the kind of movie small town with no ordinary citizens; everyone has a speaking role, and they all live in one another's pockets, know one another's business, and have jobs that allow them to drop into the general store and one another's kitchens with the frequency of neighbors on a sitcom.
That's not to say the movie doesn't have a lot of sweetness and warmth. Until the plot becomes intolerably cornball, there's charm in the story of how the withdrawn Henry returns to Big Eden after his granddad (George Coe) has a stroke. He's welcomed by Grace (Louise Fletcher), the local teacher, and learns immediately that "Dean is back in town." That would be Dean Stewart (Tim DeKay), Henry's hunky best friend in high school and the object of an unrequited crush that spans the decades. Now Dean is divorced, and smiling at Henry during Sunday church services.
Grandpa starts to mend, Henry helps Grace in the local school and the Widow Thayer is hired to cook meals for the two men. But the Widow Thayer is a fearsomely bad cook, and soon the wonderfully named Pike Dexter (Eric Schweig) is secretly preparing gourmet meals from recipes on the Internet and feeding the widow's swill to his dog. Pike is an Indian who runs the general store, despite painful shyness and a deep reluctance to say more than three words at a time.