I had to. Too many serendipitous references to this man have occurred recently for me to let it go without marking it officially. True, he doesn’t quite fit my typical Movie Hero of the Week mould. He hardly deserves “more of the spotlight.” But I feel he is misunderstood, and not well directed. While his intentional “bad acting” doesn’t differ much from his actual acting, I want to offer you a few considerations before we lock and key Mr. Reeves into Dudedom forever.
Disclosure: I had a raging crush on Keanu from 1993-5, ages 12-14. Any YM quiz called the equivalent of “Who Is Your Celebrity Boyfriend” resulted in my being assigned to him. True, I changed all my answers so this would happen. I just want you to know I’m horribly biased. But then again, it’s my blog. It’s all biased. Are my hormones affecting this pick moreso than, say, Edie McClurg? Sure. But bear with me. When it comes to acting, at least, I know what I’m talking about.
Keanu first came into the general public awareness in the form of Ted Theodore Logan of the Bill and Ted’s franchise in 1989. I do own an offering of his from 1986 entitled Brotherhood of Justice. However, since I’m trying to convince you that he is a good actor at times, we shall still begin with Bill and Ted’s.
Like bad singing, idiocy is most deftly performed by those who are not afflicted. I give you Eugene Levy in Waiting for Guffman. After films like A Mighty Wind , we know that Eugene Levy actually has a pretty good set of pipes. But his true comedic genius comes through as tone-deaf Dr. Pearl. Keanu, I hold, is not dumb. Why? Because Ted is dumb. And Ted is funny. Dumbasses don’t understand comedic timing. Ted does. He even nails well-timed shoulder shrugs. This is more difficult than it looks. And, when Ted, upon meeting the Princesses says, “I’m in love, Dude, ” we believe him. Ted, or Keanu rather, is seeing this Princess for the first time, and it reads. And how specific are his heartfelt, “Whoas!”? Very, in this writer’s mind.
With Ted, Keanu risked type-casting. While Point Break allowed him to grow up, it hardly allowed to escape Surfer Dudedom. I don’t offer Point Break as an example of his higher work. (But I do offer it as a really good time.) Yet, in general, he seems to have gravitated toward many weird and indie flicks. My Own Private Idaho is hardly mainstream fare. While he cannot hold a candle to his costars in Much Ado About Nothing, he does something that most people are too vain or scared to do, he surrounds himself with people who are more talented and more accomplished than he. For what other reason than to learn? Certainly any other movie would have made him more money than a Branaugh vehicle. He could have most likely phoned in any role he must have been offered at the time. As a viewer, I get a rare sense from Mr. Reeves; this man has respect for his art, and knows that there is always more to learn. That’s hot. Do I want to pay to watch somebody struggle? I will answer this with a question, “Does this ‘somebody’ look like Keanu Reeves?”
As my second offering in the “Give Keanu a Chance, Man” argument, I give you Little Buddha. Keanu does one thing exceedingly well, that other more prominent actors do not. He achieves a sense of wonder. God love Clooney, but his charm lies in his somewhat bemused and unimpressed attitude. Keanu is on the opposite side of the spectrum, particularly in Little Buddha, seeing each movie world for the respective first time. “Whoa,” indeed. Little Buddha is an innocent, and beautiful movie. And Keanu, as Prince Siddartha, fits right in.
One of my favorite Keanu movies is The Devil’s Advocate. Like Point Break, I cannot offer this to you as an example of his acting ability. I can only offer it to you in sheer fun. His is overwhelmingly miscast as the high-powered Southern attorney. Yet, his horror is real.
Let me finally offer My Own Private Idaho. It’s early nineties gay Hamlet. I say this without the slightest tinge of sarcasm. That’s exactly what it is. He’s kind of perfect. His teenaged Hamlety bravado seems false. Exactly as it should feel. He’s a scared, young runaway in a world of freaks with a narcoleptic best friend. I’d let my defense mechanisms kick in at that point, as well, I think. Teenage/early twenties facade is the least buyable act in the world. And he sells that sense. Perhaps what I’m saying is Keanu gets dealt the difficult role, plays it with youth and innocence rather than cynicism, and then we condemn him for it. The guy is an artist. You don’t have to like his art. But you have to respect that he puts love into what he does. If only I could say that for everything I do. Frankly, it’s something I aspire to.
You’ll notice I blatantly leave out the Matrix movies. I don’t really like them, in all honestly. If I wanted to see grey clothing with holes, I would dig through Will’s closet. But more appropriately, I don’t need to mention them. We’re all aware. Frankly, my favorite Keanu flick is Speed. But that’s not what this post is about. What I want to encourage is seeking out the lesser known Keanu gems. See what Gus Van Sant saw: an innocent. The true problem may be that no one tends to write the male innocent. The ethereal man. And that’s what Keanu is. He’s Depp minus the attitude. He’s Pitt without the chip on his shoulder. He is blissfully not self-aware. There seems to be no air of narcissism about him. He’s from the wrong side of the tracks. But instead of picking fights, he seems more likely to paint. He’s not clever. He’s entirely unique. Truly. Nothing incites controversy like an original. It’s long been said that his name means (in Hawaiian) “cool breeze over the mountain.” Certainly, he’s a breath of fresh air, no?
*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.