An Exercise in Authenticity

Though Generation Um…includes a star studded cast—Keanu Reeves, Bojana Novakovic, and Adelaide Clemens—this film surprisingly has more of an indie vibe.  Set in New York City, Generation Um… provides an unforgiving portrait of intimacy, dissatisfaction, and the ambiguity of friendship. The film has a strongly post-modern vibe and echoes Haruki Murakami’s bestseller, After Dark.   Like the novel, generation Um…delves into gritty urban night life as it unfolds over the course of one day and portrays the embittered intimacy between John, Violet, and Mia.

The film expands Keanu Reeves’ repertoire by placing him in an atypical role.   Instead of showcasing his kung-fu skills, Reeves shows a more sensitive side.  As the driver for an escort service, he is familiar with the underworld of commodified sex (hence, the film’s R-rating).  Despite the shock-value of John’s job, Reeves succeeds in painting a candid picture of restlessness and silently immerses himself in the city.  John notices the artistic beauty everyday life when he stops to appreciate a bouquet of balloons,  but his artistic taste does not cut through his brooding loneliness. A solitary 40-something, John wanders the city, waiting for dark—the time he will reunite with his Party Girls, Violet and Mia. Their relationship blurs the boundaries between professional and personal, friends and lovers.

Yet, the already ambiguous dynamic of their relationship changes when John steals a video camera. The camera provides another narrative voice in the film, events unfold through the lens of John’s camera.  He uses the camera to capture mundanely beautiful scenes of city life and extreme close-ups of everyday objects. Instead of giving John purpose, the camera only facilitates his role as spectator.

Though he rarely films himself, it is not long before he turns the camera on his Party Girls. The video camera becomes a central point of the film. In addition to changing the characters’ interactions, the video camera underscores the meta implications of having an audience. Violet and Mia react differently to John’s camera by they both put on performances for the implied audience.  This calls their authenticity and relationships into question.  Later, they adjust to the idea of being filmed and allow their unedited selves to be captured by John’s camera. John provides an unpretentious portrait of their lives. Though the girls’ shared personal experiences and dark secrets might sounds like confessional vlogs at times, Violet and Mia’s stories are unforgivingly real.

Despite the tight focus on the relationship between Violet, John, and Mia, Generation Um…highlights the importance of setting. The director, Mark L. Mann, skillfully uses New York City as more than a backdrop.  Aside from a cliché “only in New York” moment, the film provides viewers with an intimate knowledge of the city. Instead of adding background music, Mann plays with silence and allows the city to become the soundtrack. The characters frequent mundane and unglamorous locations and wander through side streets. At times, the camera work can be shaky and distracted, but these techniques emphasize the characters’ aimlessness and discontent. In addition, Mann’s use of extreme close-ups lends a contemplative tone. Through unconventional camera angles and unfocused shots, the film provides an authentic flavor of New York City.

Generation um…deftly handles the uncertainties and disappointments of everyday life.  It succeeds in immersing the viewer in the characters’ lives while simultaneously reminding the audience that they, like John, are only spectators.  But its unforgiving portrayal of intimacy and friendships makes it somewhat displeasing. Mann accosts the viewers with reality and unhappiness. Yet, the artistic rendering helps make the film’s dark tones more palatable. While generation Um…is not easy to watch, it is a startlingly stark film that should not be missed when it opens in theatres on May 3rd.