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Which Keanu Is the Best Keanu?

According to the MEL staff — and on the heels of the news that ‘Bill & Ted’ will soon return

So big news, after much gestation, it appears the Bill & Ted trilogy will finally be complete with the third film in the franchise, Bill & Ted Face the Music, now officially entering pre-production. Maybe it’s the times, maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s just us, but we haven’t been this elated as a group since we washed the taste of Taco Bell’s low-key healthy options out of our mouths with a conference-room full of naked chicken chalupas.

Or maybe, it’s just the notion of having more Keanu (i.e., the Ted in Bill & Ted) in our lives. “Keanu is one of the few pure humans on the planet,” staff writer Miles Klee argued at yesterday morning’s writers’ room. Per usual, Miles isn’t wrong. And so, we decided to gather ‘round and count all the ways that purity shines through — from movie star to man to meme.

Eddie Kim, Features Writer: I turned eight years old the day that The Matrix hit U.S. theaters, and my parents deemed me too young to watch the film on the big screen — mostly, I think they were nervous of being judged for taking a child to an R-rated feature. By the time the movie dropped on DVD, though, my dad had forgotten such misgivings.

That first late-night viewing was the start of a truly epic run. I watched it more than 30 times over the course of the next decade. As a youngster, the movie’s appeal was superficial; as a teenager, The Matrix became a fable unlike any other. Keanu’s lean, generically handsome face and lanky body made him a blank slate for the transformation shown through The Matrix. The big fight sequences make Neo’s growth seem primarily like a physical one, but the story asserts again and again that Neo’s fulfilment of his “destiny” wasn’t inevitable, but rather, the result of a newfound mental strength.

Early in the film, we see him literally crawling on hands and knees, in terrified disbelief, as the mysterious voice of Morpheus guides him through his cubicle-farm office, helping him escape a pack of suit-clad agents. We feel his deep hesitation when Morpheus offers him the comfort of the Matrix (the blue pill) versus the dark life of a rebel fighter (the red pill). We see his bewilderment at the veiled wisdom of The Oracle, and we hear the pure terror in his voice when he faces a digital Agent — “TRINITY! HELP!” — in the film’s iconic bullet-dodging scene.

Keanu’s stoic acting may be a punchline, but it worked perfectly for Neo, subtly revealing the insecurities that wind through the character. It sounds naive to say, but teenage me found a wealth of relatable solace in this absurd sci-fi fairy tale.

Andrew Fiouzi, Staff Writer: Before seeing Keanu in My Own Private Idaho, I sort of thought he was a garbage actor. Sure, he was great as Neo; the same, however, could be said of any handsome actor who smolders when he speaks in staccato. But his performance in My Own Private Idaho was, and still is, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Somehow he’s able to effortlessly blend a stage performance with movie acting. He’s as vulnerable as he is confident and as believable in playing the son of a wealthy father as he is playing a wayward tramp.

John McDermott, Staff Writer: My Keanu obsession began with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Keanu’s character in Parenthood is essentially the same person: A goofy stoner you can’t help but love. At first, the film depicts Tod as hopeless burnout, but he’s the unsung hero of the film. He’s the only one who get through to Gary, the angsty teenager by an impossibly young Joaquin Phoenix, and he dispenses some sage parenting advice onto Helen (Dianne West), his girlfriend’s mother, who grudgingly accepts that Tod isn’t so bad after all.

I contend Tod is Keanu’s greatest performance. Maybe it was the sheer amount of talent surrounding him that elevated his acting chops. The Parenthood cast is unbelievable: Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Robards, Rick Moranis and Tom Hulce (!) among others. Or maybe it was that floppy-haired stoner-bro is Keanu’s wheelhouse, and he aged out those roles.

One thing is certain, though: Only a lovable idiot spells Tod with one “D”.

Sam Dworkin, Senior Designer: My Keanu isn’t The One. No, my Keanu is a degenerate gambler turned Chicago Little League baseball coach. Throw in hot nun Diane Lane, Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big poppa,” black Sammy Sosa and young Michael B. Jordan, and YOU’VE GOT A FUCKING BANGER. Also, you have no soul if you didn’t cry during this scene.


Nick Leftley, Senior Editor: My favourite Keanu movie — in fact, one of my favourite movies of all time — is My Own Private Idaho, at least in part because I want to know how someone managed to pitch a movie with, “It’s basically Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2, but with Portland rent boys. Oh, and that guy from Bill and Ted is in it. No, the other one. No, the other one.” But since Andrew has already claimed that entry, I’m going to use this opportunity to defend Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey instead.

Also, fuck you, Andrew.

I don’t understand the hate for Bogus Journey. I think of it as being a lot like Airplane II: The Sequel, which, despite being such a despised/disregarded sequel that the writers and directors of the original Airplane have never even watched it, is actually quoted by people all the time, mistakenly believing lines to be from the first one (“Can I ask you a question?” “What is it?” “It’s an interrogative statement, used to test knowledge. But that’s not important right now…”)

Anyway, the original’s “You killed Ted, you medieval dickweed!” aside, Bogus Journey has a way higher number of memorable moments and lines. “I got a full on robot chubby.” Melvyning the Grim Reaper. “You’re not strong! You’re silky boys! And silk comes from the butts of Chinese worms!” The entire long fall into hell (including the immortal, “If I die, you can have my Megadeth collection.” “But dude, we’re already dead!” “Oh. Well, then, they’re yours, dude!”)

And of course, the happy ending that outdoes even movie contemporary Wayne’s World’s “mega-happy ending”: A newspaper headline montage tells the story of their totally triumphant, uh, triumph as KISS’ “God Gave Rock ’N’ Roll To You II” wails anthemically in the background. It’s the most unashamedly feelgood ending of all time — just look at this Goddamn high five you savages.

Anyway, this is Keanu at peak Keanu. Bring on Bill and Ted 3. Immediately.

Tierney Finster, Contributing Writer: Keanu’s mom is Patricia Taylor, a showgirl-turned-costume-designer who met his dad while performing in a Beirut casino. She’s glam. I like red carpet photos of them together—he seems very much like the good son—as well as paparazzi pics of him out with his sisters. It seems like they go to Starbucks a lot.

Tracy Moore, Staff Writer: To be clear, Something’s Gotta Give is everything you expect Nancy Meyers movies to be: Exceptionally successful middle-aged white people in exceptionally remodeled kitchens worrying if they’re exceptionally successful enough. That said, this one still had enough of a pulse to cast Keanu Reeves as 36-year-old doctor Julian Mercer.

In this role, Mercer is everything we wanted both actual Keanu and modern men to evolve into. He’s a successful ER doctor in the Hamptons. He’s self-possessed. He’s good looking. And he’s smitten with famous playwright Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), in spite of a 20-year age gap. It’s not just that he’s smitten, he’s also erudite enough to know that she’s a playwright, because — swoon — he’s already read her plays.

He manages to combine the progressiveness of a woke dude who isn’t hung up on age (this was only 2003, guys!), but still has the throwback appeal of an old-school gentleman, which he demonstrates by being very charming, flying her to Paris for her birthday and exiting with nothing short of complete grace. What’s more, he’s not threatened in the slightest by her age or her success. “How great is it for you that I’m not intimidated by your brilliance?” he asks in a singularly perfect line that men should’ve been lifting for the last 15 years to seduce brainy women.

Only they’re not, because they didn’t watch Keanu in Something’s Gotta Give. Their loss (and definitely ours).

Alana Levinson, Deputy Editor: I don’t give a shit about any Keanu that isn’t barefoot, drinking a coconut water and looking like he hasn’t interacted with another human being since the 1990s. Washed Keanu may not be the Keanu you want, but you get the Keanu you deserve. And in 2018, that means being so out of fucks to give you wear a hoodie tied around your neck like a scarf.

Miles Klee, Staff Writer: Richard Linklater and Philip K. Dick: Two undeniable talents who have cumulatively produced a lot of garbage. What mortal could hope to unite their disparate visions into a satisfying work of near-future sci-fi (better known as A Scanner Darkly)? ONLY KEANU. As the tragic Bob Arctor, an undercover drug-war cop whose mind is unraveling due to the influence of a narcotic known as “Substance D,” Keanu’s spacey performance charts a slow descent into paranoia. Bridging the surreal humor and powerful melancholy that defines A Scanner Darkly’s ensemble of gibbering addicts, he must also imbue what’s essentially a cartoon (or rotoscope animation, whatever) with profound regret — and the acutely felt absence of the ordinary, peaceful life he rejected for squalor and pain. By the final frame, he’s broken your heart more than once. Shame about that Alex Jones cameo, though.

Ian Lecklitner, Staff Writer: Keanu sitting on a park bench, sulking over a sandwich by himself is my (emo)tivation. That heartbreaking frown inspired 14,000-plus people to congregate in on a Cheer Up Keanu Facebook page, which was discontinued after Keanu announced that he disapproved of the paparazzi photo that spurred their digital pilgrimage.

But before dispersing, the Facebook hordes instituted a Cheer Up Keanu Day in 2010. Fans contributed to cancer research, donated bone marrow and organized charity walks — Keanu’s sister was diagnosed with leukemia prior to the holiday, hence their focus on cancer.

That’s a goddamn powerful frown. I can only hope to look that sad one day.