Henry: That's so old. Is it any good?
Mary Margaret: It's unbelievable! Who makes tortes out here anyway?
Henry: That's the widow Thayer, she made that.
Mary Margaret: You're saying she made this?
Henry: Right. She's the one who's been doing all the cooking.
Mary Margaret: A woman did not make this.
Henry: What is that supposed to mean?
Mary Margaret: Nothing. I don't mean anything by it. I'm just saying a woman didn't make this.
Henry: Please stay for supper, Pike.
Henry: Look at the size of this trout.
The directorial debut of Thomas Bezucha (who also directed The Family Stone), Big Eden was a breakthrough film that finally depicted gay men of all shapes, sizes, and ages navigating the treacherous waters of love just like regular folks, with no over-the-top drama or circuit boys or any other stereotypically “gay” details thrown in just for laughs. When Henry (Gross) visits his hometown in rural Montana to care for his ailing grandfather, he discovers that Dean (DeKay), his high school “crush,” has also recently returned home. But while Henry pursues Dean (without actually coming out of the closet), Pike (Schweig), the owner of the general store, falls “head over heels” for Henry. Since Pike is too shy to approach Henry directly, he decides to learn to cook and proceeds to prepare dinner for Henry and his grandfather, surreptitiously substituting his dishes for the ones made by the widow Thayer (Martin). Despite promptings from his friends in town, it takes Henry a long time to get over his obsession with his straight friend Dean and to realize his affection for Pike and understand Pike’s for him.
“So, what’s for eats?” Henry asks, and the audience is richly rewarded with a parade of amazing dishes. At the same time, the film’s depiction of Pike’s progress in the kitchen serves as a real culinary education. He begins by reading The Joy of Cooking, and it remains his “bible” throughout the film; but he also refers to Cooking Light, Gourmet, and Food & Wine magazines, creating tasty dishes because he wants “things to be nice” for Henry. The film shows many of Pike’s creations—chicken with apricots, olives, and figs; stuffed green peppers; mushroom and spinach salad; baked salmon garnished with radishes and celery; steamed clams; curly endive and cucumber salad; chicken with carrots, celery, and beans; trout poached in white wine (he sends his friends out to the stream to catch the trout!); mushroom soup—and the viewer even hears tell of a delicious peach sorbet (made in Montana, in the winter!).
No movie about familial relationships would be complete without a Thanksgiving meal, and Big Eden depicts the usual dysfunctional gathering, with all the trimmings: turkey, green beans, biscuits, potato salad, and cherry and pumpkin pies. The masterpiece of this meal, however, is the platter of endive, asparagus, yellow and orange peppers, and bean sprouts.
Other foods are mentioned: cappuccino, cottage cheese and sour cream pancakes, burgers with onions or cheese or chili, ribs, corn on the cob, watermelon. The plot hinges on Henry’s discovery of who actually made the delicious torte he discusses with Mary Margaret (Cox): he thinks it was the widow, just as he believed all along that she was preparing dinner for him and his grandfather, but when she admits that the food was not hers, Henry finally opens his eyes and begins to accept the love that is being showered upon him. The way to a man’s heart truly is through his stomach!
Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha
Starring Arye Gross as Henry Hart, Eric Schweig as Pike Dexter, Tim DeKay as Dean Stewart, Louise Fletcher as Grace Cornwell, George Coe as Sam Hart, Nan Martin as Widow Thayer, O'Neal Compton as Jim Soams, Corinne Bohrer as Anna Rudolph, Veanne Cox as Mary Margaret Bishop
Awards: 2001 Cleveland International Film Festival Best Film and Best American Independent Feature Film (Bezucha); 2001 Florida Film Festival Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature (Bezucha); 2000 L.A. Outfest Audience Award for Outstanding Narrative Feature (Bezucha) and Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film (Schweig); 2001 Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Jury Award for Best Fiction Feature (Bezucha); 2000 San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival Audience Award for Best Feature (Bezucha); 2000 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival Audience Award for Favorite Narrative Feature (Bezucha); 2001 Toronto Inside Out Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival for Best Feature Film or Video (Bezucha)