We grew up taking Keanu Reeves for granted, first as the sweet but dimwitted kid in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
, then as a complicated heartthrob in Point Break
and My Own Private Idaho
, and later as a full-bore action hero in Speed
and The Matrix.
Between the blockbusters, we embraced him ironically as he was cast (and miscast) in a dizzying array of prestige and genre movies that we rented from our local video store on Friday nights.
For a certain generation of fans—that nebulous space between Gen X and Millennial—Keanu was both an object of desire and an afterthought. But the irony of loving someone ironically is how earnest that devotion can become. And in our moment in culture, it’s not hard to earnestly appreciate the man who has launched a thousand internet memes—and inspired the era in which we currently live: the Keanussance.
But why the need for irony in the first place? Much of the reason is Keanu’s style of acting.
Often charged with being “blank” or “expressionless,” he is blank much as a piece of paper is. He gets filled up by his role, the story, our perceptions, and the ideas he invites us to form with a look through his long-ass bangs or a gesture you could blink and miss. He is a cipher, but he’s also active and present, inviting the audience into worlds built for their entertainment, not just for his celebrity.
And Keanu is, admittedly, not a knowable celebrity. He rejects the traditional trappings of stardom in favor of walking the path of the artist, often in a perfect-fitting T-shirt and well-worn
suede boots. He likes his privacy. He selects movies based on his own secret criteria, an algorithm which meant that we saw him in A Scanner Darkly
and The Lake House
back-to-back in 2006. (This was the beginning of what would be a notable commercial dip in his career, before he reascended with John Wick
.) He is enigmatic but clearly driven by his own desires and interests. We can’t pin him down, and that’s part of the fun.
At the same time, he’s made a career of learning new things his Thing, all while steering clear of the outsize and awful behavior typically expected (though definitely not encouraged) of a male star. His vulnerability, his love of art and literature, and his long-running friendships with female co-stars like Sandra Bullock and Winona Ryder make him a tender and complicated example of nontoxic masculinity—or, at the very least, a person striving to be kind and excellent in work and in life. In this endeavor, he helps us imagine that we could be ourselves but better, too.
In this book, we will explore what we talk about when we talk about Keanu because we believe he merits study. We will riff lovingly on his persona between critical essays because we’re your cool teachers who let you pass notes and eat candy in class. We’ve never met him personally, but we’ve grown up with him, in a sense. To us he seems decent. He seems good. He seems actively engaged. In the words of the man himself: “The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.”
Let’s pay Keanu Reeves some attention.
Copyright © 2019 by Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.