Critical and Curious: Season 2 Keanus

Season 2 Episode 1: Buddy Keanu: Keanu Reeves was introduced to the American public consciousness with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and My Own Private Idaho (1991). Both buddy films, Keanu simultaneously demonstrates an acting range and a consistent presence that has defined him for 30 years. We discuss the American Dream, healthy male-male relationships, and Keanu’s ability to draw on the audience’s underestimation.

I thought one of the most interesting things discussed in this podcast was that the film portraying more hegemonic ideologies of masculinity (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), still portrayed a healthier male-male relationship than did the less hegemonic story of a male-male relationship (My Own Private Idaho). While there is one instance in the Bill &Ted film where a derogatory word regarding homosexuality is said by the male protagonists, this movie on the whole showed a relationship between two young men that is closer, deeper, and stronger than the relationship seen in My Own Private Idaho. In the 1989 buddy film Bill & Ted, Keanu Reeves and his costar play off of each other with palpable chemistry. As Professor L’Pree said in the podcast; they’re more than friends–they’re soulmates. They share a profound bond that media often fails to portray between men, and that society makes feel taboo.

Season 2 Episode 2: Cop Keanu: Keanu Reeves capitulated into Hollywood in the early 1990s with Point Break (1991) and Speed (1994). These two roles established him squarely and a thoughtful action hero. We discuss the psychological backstory in Point Break and the lack of in Speed, the evolution of Keanu’s Everyman, and the metaphor of Los Angeles on screen.

Season 2 Episode 3: Classic Keanu: In this episode, we discuss Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), and Little Buddha (1994). In each of these roles, Keanu brings his own interpretation to classic characters, which is met with harsh critique and high praise. We talk about his accents, his brownface, and how these films capitalize (rightly or wrongly) on his blank innocence. NOTE: This episode runs long in order to address all three films.

Professor Charisse L’Pree introduces listeners to the significance of this in Much Ado by way of Keanu Reeve’s [sic] beard and mustache (the first time audiences see him with it!), which she humorously states helps audiences recognize him as the movie’s villain. “How do you make a character a villain?”, she asks, “by giving him a beard!”. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and one that helped me think about how our understanding of gender roles informs it.  In addition to the downward curve of Reeves’s mustache highlighting his frown, I considered the extent to which the use of a facial hair on a character plays into our notions of villains as male and masculine. If the wearing of a beard – a grooming style associated with testosterone and masculinity – is a clear counter to the clean-shaven, baby-faced look of straight-laced and moral characters, what room does that leave for women (and non-beard-wearers) to be identified as villainous characters? Reeves’s facial hair is a prime example of a sex-specific styling technique becoming synonymous with a character type.

Season 2 Episode 4: Thriller Keanu: In this episode, we discuss Johnny Mnemonic (1995) and Devil’s Advocate (1997). With these films, Keanu embraces projects in which he is deeply interested, taking pay cuts and criticisms to work with William Gibson, Robert Longo, and Al Pacino. We discuss the nature of free will and dependency, the Bible, and the duality of self in these two films and across all of Keanu’s films to date.

Season 2 Episode 5: Romantic Keanu: In this episode, we discuss A Walk in the Clouds (1995) and Feeling Minnesota (1996). The duality of Romantic Keanu is evident in these two films: one has an abundance of sentiment and the other, an absolute dearth. However, both films feature good guy Keanu saving the damsel in distress, often at his own peril, and the complex emotions from him that we have come to love. Lani Rich (chipperish.com) joins us to talk about the story structure of romances.

 My own feelings about Keanu’s acting have changed over time, and the Romantic Keanu episode further changed my opinion; I had come to the conclusion that Keanu is not a bad actor as many contend(ed) — particularly in his earlier roles — but rather that he is a deeply subtle actor who often makes bad acting choices, i.e.; he’ll often go *too* subtle, and just seem like “whoah” Keanu, and that has always seemed very negative to me. In “Romantic Keanu,” Drs. Corsbie & Thompson along with Lani Rich discussed this not as Keanu going too subtle, but being childlike in his blankness in an almost ineffable way that, along with whatever negative criticism it invites, also invites reflection and forces the audience to also look at the foils in the scenes.

Season 2 Episode 6: Matrix Keanu: In this episode, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Matrix with an extended analysis of Keanu Reeves’ character Neo across all 3 films in the franchise: The Matrix (1999), The Matrix Reloaded (2003), and The Matrix Revolutions (2003). We talk about the Wachowski’s masterpiece as a culmination of Keanu Reeves’ career to date and the series’ legendary status in popular culture.

Season 2 Episode 7: Teammate Keanu: In this episode, we talk about Keanu Reeves’ venture into sports comedies between Matrix movies, including The Replacements (2000) and Hardball (2001). Both movies are loosely based on true events, establishing characters that are both dynamic and cliché. We discuss how Keanu talks back to the sports comedy genre, the use of specific songs in both films, and his ever-present reluctant hero, which manifests in a complicated representation of the White Savior. This episode is dedicated to Lorraine Branham; She was a wonderful captain who led our team over the past decade through some very trying times for the media industry. In the words of Shane Falco from The Replacements, “It’s been an honor sharing the field of battle with you.”

Season 2 Episode 8: Supernatural Keanu: In this episode, we discuss Keanu Reeves’ other worldliness in Constantine (2005) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008). Both of these stories are adaptations of earlier content, and, in choosing these films, Keanu repeats his status as reluctant savior, continues to problematize the concept of free will, and embraces the jadedness that he has been “dress rehearsing” for decades. We talk about the philosophy of Keanu Reeves and the tricky business of auteur theory in these critically panned films.

Season 2 Episode 9: Kao Keanu: In this episode, we discuss Keanu’s embrace of East Asian legends and the free will of warriors in Man of Tai Chi (2013) and 47 Ronin (2013). Despite geographic similarities, the two films are wildly different in their storytelling and authenticity: whereas the former features Keanu taking a back seat to the world of Tiger Chen in his directorial debut filmed mostly in Chinese, the latter features Keanu artificially inserted into Japanese history. However, he plays characters in both films that are narratively marked as mixed, thus engaging with his own multiracial roots, and inspiring the title of the episode: kao, or warrior in Hawaiian.

We will be releasing 2 more episodes for this season, including December Keanu (Generation Um 2013, Knock Knock 2015) and John Wick Keanu (John Wick 2014, John Wick Chapter 2 2017, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum 2019).