The famously strong and silent Keanu Reeves has returned to the spotlight in “Generation Um…” as a rambling, choppy character with a dim sense of heart. Writer and director Mark Mann succeeds in highlighting the often underrated acting ability of his leading man. Undeniably the star of the show, Reeves’ performance redeems an otherwise disappointing, rambling film.
“Generation” follows John (Reeves), a loner who spends his time driving aimlessly around Manhattan, often accompanied by audacious Violet (Bojana Novakovic) and reserved Mia (Adelaide Clemens). When John decides to drop off his “girls” at their shabby apartment and take to the streets alone, he stumbles upon an abandoned but functional film camera and uses it to express his submissive persona. Several sequences of John filming the girls later, we begin to learn more about the dynamics of the trio’s relationship and the world at large.
Their time together is stylistically compelling — Mann flexes his considerable cinematic prowess in these scenes. However, there is little substance here. The screen time given to these characters gives us few chances to connect with them. In fact, it only further distances us from them.
The movie’s story is made most compelling by its visuals, but the vacuous dialogue is given the task of conveying the film’s meaning. Mann’s halfhearted attempts to create a deep indie film ultimat-ely do not succeed, because the symbols he highlights are unattached to themes or interpretations. As the film continues, there are several instances where more context might have been helpful. The reasons behind Violet and Mia’s friendship with each other or how John met them are all details which would have provided the audience a better idea of who the characters are. “Generation” is a film about three friends, but their friendship exists in an empty vacuum.
Despite the opaque and mostly dry supporting characters, the director makes a smart choice in focusing on John. Reeves returns to film in a big way, despite his character’s passive personality. By the end, Mann has displayed John’s thoughts and actions almost fully, though much of this fulfillment occurs because of Reeves’ superb performance. Everything from his facial expressions to the way he responds to his co-stars is indicative of his acting range and his dedication to his character. Regardless of the quality of Mann’s story, Reeves’ performance is a powerful thing to behold.
Though Mann’s project is weak, “Generation Um…” is made tolerable by its main character. Even if Reeves’ performance alone cannot salvage this erratic and confusing piece, his presence stands out as a great return to the movie screen.
Nora Blake is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.