Review: Generation Um (2012)
Not knowing how to start this review off per-say, I’m choosing to express these very exact dizzying thoughts of indecisive-uncertainty and thereby establish this annoyingly abstract introduction into discussing Mark Mann’s New York/soul-searchers story, Generation Um (2012).
The film stars Adelaide Clemens, Bojana Novakovic, and Keanu Reeves as three thirty-plus somethings (age is never defined) drifting along a routine 24-hour time-period within each of their detached, displaced and jaded — WAIT! Oaky, I figure I should just address this now — Yes, this is my third Keanu Reeves related article for the ‘Pretty Clever’… and “yes” the actor’s presence in the flick is what initially clued me into even being aware of Generation Um‘s filmic-existence in the first place (also possessing a punchy and provocative two-word title). So being an unapologetic fan of K. Reeves combined with a poignant and subversive sounding, almost definitive type of punkish title, all coming together under the guise of ”indie” filmmaking… well lets just say I’d be lying if I said this film hasn’t been on my own radar for quite some time.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you feel about following a movie’s coverage before its subsequent release, tales of Generation Um‘s initial production process seemed to vaporize into obscurity, possibly overshadowed by the only other Keanu Reeves starring vehicle that bears mentioning (by Hollywood/money-making standards), 47 Ronin. However, external to this mainstream vs. independent/profit vs. none dichotomy, there could indeed be an entirely other reason why most of us lovers of film haven’t quite heard of Generation Um‘s limited run – And that’s potentially because the film itself fails at being a film (by mainstream standards anyway) and certain “powers that be” quietly swept this flick under the distribution-rug. I emphasize “potentially fails” though because while I’m not saying Generation Um is a cinematic-gem by any means, I am still advocating the film’s potential ability to connect with one of you as it sporadically did with me… enough to make me want to write/talk about it. I was actually initially going to review The World’s End, but I happened to peep this film too (kind of at random) and days later, Generation Um managed to keep me thinking just a little bit more… okay, my defense rests.
“You just get to a point where your disappointment in yourself becomes so much bigger than your parent’s disappointment in you.” – John
Reeves plays John, a man who partially begins to de-sedate himself from his daily, soulless stupor of a waking-life once he impulsively steals and makes off with a random video-camera amidst an outdoor Hula-Hoop parade. Armed with a record, and now a mirror into his confused generational-daze, John, with a rehashed glimmer of new found purpose, proceeds to search for some meaning and self-worth within his otherwise meaningless and lonesome universe. Filming his every mundane move, John’s lost and almost joyously-neutered journey starts to coincide with the boozed-up clubber’s existence of that of his girlfriends, Mia and Violet (they are also John’s co-workers whom he drives for throughout their nightly escort-based endeavors).
In maybe a weaker form of minimalist/Gus Van-Sant-esque filmmaking, binned together with borrowing from the Richard Linklater- pioneered school of slacker/drifter aesthetics, Generation Um attempts to give voice to a sub-genre of people whose collective cries for connection and proof of self-worth have worn themselves thin. For characters who have been unhappy for so long, said unhappiness now resembles nothing more than a complacent drone-routine (known as their lives). Sound cynical, morbid and possibly devoid of any sort of positive vibes? Sure… but you know what? This debatably messy film (shot mostly on 16-mm) feels more like an experiment to me. An experiment with something to say, something on its mind. In the same realm of Ethan Hawke’s directorial debut Chelsea Walls, Generation Um (at its best) works as this quaint unimposing exploration of characters’ tainted daydreams, epiphanies and emotions. Possibly even more accurately put, the film is a portrayal of people who have ultimately become desensitized to themselves. From frame-one, Generation Um thrusts us into what feels more like a prolonged snippet of character actions and interactions, rather than a legitimate unfolding story (I also think that’s kind of the point). This is not a story about character-arcs expanding, and to be fair, this isn’t necessarily a sordid story about characters de-evolving either, this is simply a story of characters just being. Hearkening back to referring to this film as an experiment, watching the flick is kind of like reading through an essay that’s missing its own introduction and conclusion.
So if you absolutely cannot relate to themes of feeling under-appreciated and of untapped conduits of ability, and you’ve never felt disillusioned and comfortably numb from that always shouting, internalized voice of hysteria, this film will probably amount to nothing but one giant lackluster-bore in your books. I would even go so far as to say that if 8 people sit down to watch, 7.5 of them are guaranteed to start breaking things. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. That being said, I don’t think the ambitions of a movie like Generation Um are to ever get to the prom and appeal cross-culturally… I think the film’s goals are a little more quietly earnest than that. Ultimately I believe any movie hell-bent on tackling such existentialist themes as exploring one’s own false-sense of nothingness. Well lets just say if Generation Um connects with, at the very least, just one person, I think it’s done its duty, or at least backed up its arguably pretentious stance at being an intellectually fueled film.
So beyond tugging at some thinking-man’s themes here, the real reason to give this film a look (for me) is the story’s central performance on display, that of actor Keanu Reeves. If there was ever an actor born to play a seemingly ageless, pasty man-child emoting such apparent deep-seeded internal-angst while scoffing down a cupcake for a brooding two minutes, it’s Keanu Reeves, and I mean that in the best of ways. At this stage in the game, Reeves has become a master at portraying lost souls (both literally and metaphorically) on screen. I also think Reeves is one of the few/rare actors we can typically watch where it somehow always seems as if his character’s internal-dialogue is on direct full-display even when the actor is not saying “word-one” within a scene. The fact that Reeves can almost seamlessly say everything while literally saying nothing, that enigmatic energy,works to full benefit here within this lethargic-epic that is Generation Um.
On an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio, Bruce Willis once claimed his ultimate goal was to strive for that Pacino level of acting where one could say nothing on-camera and still deliver a virtuoso performance. Legendary character-actor J.T. Walsh told comedian Kevin Pollak (on the set of A Few Good Men) that the greatest skill of an actor is convincingly “doing nothing” within a scene. Now apply these thespian-philosophies to Generation Um, and quote me all you like, but this film stands as one of the most subtly nuanced, emotionally-raw and comfortably controlled performances of Reeves’ career. Anyone looking for Theodore Logan’s youthful sense of flamboyancy will indeed be bored to death here with the actor’s sense of distance, but if you’ve seen Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly and genuinely felt there was something there to Reeves’ portrayal of a mind-crumbling, doomed junkie-narc — well then I’d sincerely proclaim that his performance within Generation Um is a definite must-watch.
To anyone claiming the acting to be flat, I rebut: The performance feels flat (if it does) because it’s being acted with a sense of truth behind it, and in a film trying so excruciatingly hard to present the “real” of it all, there’s no room (and there’s no-need) for any sort of ham-fisted melodramatics. A guy feeling sad is portrayed and depicted as inconsequential as it all sounds, and stripped away, are the sometimes contrived acting pitfalls of hitting comedy, drama, or action beats. I suggest Reeve’s performance here to be the main-draw of the film (I wish it could have also been the script). Reeves performance is as engaging as the film is ambitious in its humble existentialist quest Tidbit: This is the actor’s sixth time playing a character by the name of John.
Writer/director Mark Mann’s Generation Um ultimately worked for me and I appreciated the film’s ability to breathe within moments where most films nowadays would excessively just bombard the face of its audience with plot blatancies. The themes that the film is attempting to highlight here are all-too relevant within today’s contemporary culture — So many of us nowadays find ourselves collectively concerned, on a daily basis, faced with these bonding fears of perpetually drifting along to our own disenchanted tunes and never reaching that hopeful positive shift in the grand routine of it all. Sometimes this “fear” is hard to pinpoint and define… um…
A Gallery of Images from Generation Um
Watch the Generation Um Trailer