It's clear that whatever world it takes place in, "Big Eden" is definitely not set in this one. But don't hold that against the movie.

"Big Eden" seems to be set in a world that's more tolerant and accepting of gays. Minus that distinction, this romantic comedy is surely one of the most genuinely sweet-natured movies around.

This independently released charmer is so low-key that it may bring to mind in tone the much-missed television series "Northern Exposure," and its cast of supporting characters is so appealing that you might want to settle in there with them.

The film's title refers to the home town of Henry Hart (Arye Gross), a thirtysomething artist now living in Manhattan. He's about to have the first big show of his work when fate interferes. After hearing that his grandfather, Sam (George Coe), has had a stroke, Henry returns to rural Montana to take care of his sole remaining relative, as well as catch up with some old friends.

He's not planning to stay in town for long, but there's something holding him back — namely his longtime attraction to childhood friend Dean Stewart (Tim DeKay), who's returned to town with his two sons after a messy divorce.

At the same time, Henry is clueless about something that's painfully obvious to everyone else: Shy convenience store owner Pike Dexter (Eric Schweig) is carrying a torch for him. In fact, he's learning to cook so he can prepare meals for Henry and his grandfather.

Though its major romantic subplot and conflict is gay-centric, many of the themes are universal and relatable (especially the desire for a sense of belonging, as well as the importance of family).

Writer/director Thomas Bezucha, a former Ralph Lauren executive, impresses in his feature filmmaking debut. He's got an ear for good dialogue, and despite working with a relatively low budget, his film looks almost as good as many of its pricier competitors.

He also has a likable lead in comic actor Gross (probably best known for his work on TV's "Ellen"), while American-Indian actor Schweig makes their seemingly unlikely courtship seem believable.

However, as good as both of them are, they're nearly upstaged by the terrific supporting cast made up of veteran character actors like Coe, Louise Fletcher and Nan Martin (TV's "Drew Carey Show").

"Big Eden" is rated PG-13 for scattered use of profanity, most of it religiously based, some mildly crude humor (including one bit involving flatulence) and some adult subject matter. Running time: 118 minutes.