Matt’s review published on Letterboxd:
as far as portraits of pure longing go in cinema, or art in general, this is probably the best i've come across, but this movie is so much more than that. river phoenix's mike is a tragic character from the get-go. he's hardly in control of his own life because of his narcolepsy, as we're shown in the first shot of the film (the dictionary definition of "narcolepsy") and elsewhere. in a tragicomic fashion, one of the triggers is sex, which, you can imagine, makes it awfully hard to prostitute oneself, as he does. yet he tries, and he seems to be enjoying himself. the entire time, however, he's haunted by the ghost of his mother, a woman who seems to have abandoned him, a woman who he always longs to be near, the only female love he'll ever have.
mike is constantly yearning for things he can't have. for both his mother and keanu reeves' scott, who he falls in love with. in a heartbreaking scene, possibly one of the most heartbreaking in all of film, he confesses his love to scott, who says you can only love a man when you're paid to do so, to which mike responds "i love you, but you don't pay me." it's this theme of a constant yearning for a deeper connection that runs throughout the entire film. mike watches everyone around him find what they're looking for, or observes them going blissfully unaware through life without knowing what they're missing, but he's never able to find the answers he wants or the people he needs. they travel to italy to find his mother -- they learn she no longer lives there, and scott falls in love with a woman there and runs away with her, leaving mike stranded in a foreign country as the man he loves finds love elsewhere and he can't find his mother. nothing goes right.
at the end, we see a bit of poetic justice for scott's character: he returns to the streets of portland where he used to make his home because his father has died, and he's wearing a three-piece suit and has obviously came into his father's inheritance that was hinted at in the beginning of the film. during the wonderful final sequence where scott's father's funeral happens at the same time and in the same park (somehow) as bob's, something of a father figure for scott during his time on the streets, his "psychedelic teacher." the latter funeral builds up into some sort of explosion of celebration and love while the former just looks like people crying and lamenting. scott can never leave his past behind no matter how badly he may want to.
and that's without even touching on the wonderful integration of shakespearean english into the scenes concerning bob, whose character i also haven't touched on much, without even touching on river phoenix's performance, quiet and understated yet deeply sad and funny, sometimes at the same time, probably the best performance he gave. that's without touching on hans and his absolutely hysterical routine and his confusing character. that's without touching on the quiet beauty that gus van sant coaxes out of his locations, the sequence in italy being particularly gorgeous and poetic. that's without touching on the masterful final shot, river phoenix's sleeping body being helped into a car on the same road he was on in the beginning as the title card "have a nice day :)" crashes onto the screen, a humanist, optimistic ending to what is overall a humanist, optimistic film despite all the longing and yearning and unhappiness because i guess that's just what Goes On sometimes isn't it.
my favorite film of all time, a hysterical, moving, beautiful masterpiece.