Watching: A Gus Van Sant Double Feature

Drifters, dreamers and rebels.

By The Watching Team

Dear Watchers,

We know your watching time is limited. Meanwhile, the amount of things available to watch … is not. Looking for a movie? Nearly any movie ever made in the history of cinema? It’s probably streaming somewhere. That’s a lot of movies.

Below, we’re recommending two of them, the latest of our weekly double-feature recommendations based on the movies we think will pair well — with each other and with you. Margaret returns Friday with her weekend TV picks.


Your weekly double feature: Early Gus Van Sant

Matt Dillon in “Drugstore Cowboy.”Avenue Pictures

‘Drugstore Cowboy’ and ‘My Own Private Idaho’

After the success of his microbudget debut feature, “Mala Noche,” the director Gus Van Sant eschewed a career in Hollywood and retreated to his home in Portland, Ore., to make independent films about the fringe-dwellers he cared about — drifters, dreamers, addicts and rebels.


With “Drugstore Cowboy,” now streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, Van Sant upended the clichés and assumptions associated with addiction, depicting it not as a dreary wallow, but as a life of compulsive misadventure. Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James Le Gros and Heather Graham star as a gang of urban outlaws who structure their days around getting the next fix, which requires them to plunder Portland drugstores and hospitals in search of premium pharmaceuticals. Although these merry pirates are always on the precipice of tragedy, Van Sant makes room for moments of offhand comedy and absurdism, as well as keen insight into how drugs can recalibrate a romantic relationship.

For his superb follow-up, “My Own Private Idaho,” Van Sant again turned to spontaneous and self-destructive young Portlanders, giving unforgettable roles to River Phoenix as a narcoleptic hustler and to Keanu Reeves as his friend and crush, the troubled son of a politician. Their stories branch off in audacious ways — some of Reeves’s scenes crib dialogue from Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” — but when they hit the road together to find Phoenix’s mother, their mutual vulnerabilities are touchingly exposed, along with the complicated depths of their relationship. The film now also stands as a sad memorial to Phoenix, whose charisma suggested a young James Dean even before his untimely death. — Scott Tobias

Stream “Drugstore Cowboy” on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. Rent it on Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

Rent “My Own Private Idaho” on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.


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