Review: ‘Generation Um…’ Is Filled with Random Footage, Callgirls and Cupcakes

By  · Published on May 3rd, 2013

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When used properly, Keanu Reeves can be quite effective. Perhaps his California slacker-voiced persona doesn’t fly in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but it certainly works in Point Break or Speed. Unfortunately, in Mark L. Mann’s Generation Um…, nary a thing is “used properly.” Reeves is perhaps marginally the best thing in this film, since he merely exists in front of the camera. Though he is amidst a sea of overacting, a preponderance of static, boring footage, and bad attempts at non-linear storytelling.

In fact, it’s almost difficult to pinpoint a plot in this film at all. John (Reeves) is a Lower East Side-based driver for two young callgirls, Violet (Bojana Novakovic) and Mia (Adelaide Clemens), though he seems to hang out with them recreationally as well. It’s John’s birthday, and after stealing a large handheld camera from a group of hula hooping cowboys (yes, you read that correctly), he starts filming everything, from the water coming out of a drinking fountain, to Violet and Mia snorting coke, drinking red wine, and spilling the details of their sexual histories.

Even though John steals the camera at around the film’s halfway point, Mann films most of Um… as if it is comprised of found footage. His camera gets right up into John’s face as he eats an entire cupcake and spends several other extended periods of time drifting through mundane actions. It’s as if both Mann’s camera and John’s fictional camera both keep getting fixated on random objects and stare at them for a while – but staring at random things, like a couch cushion, do not an engaging film make.

Mann also makes a failed attempt at telling the story in a non-linear fashion as he inserts moments of John driving alone in what’s possibly New Jersey into the portions of John filming the girls getting ready for one of their gigs. The effect comes off as sloppy and confusing, and emerges without reason or ceremony about three-quarters through. One more weird element for weirdness’ sake.

Performance-wise, this film is a mixed bag. Seeing as how it’s very stripped-down, Reeves’ acting style here is the most successful. He is understated and acts naturally in front of the camera. His facial expression seldom changes, however, which explains more about his character than maybe anything else. Clemens is fine as the sweeter of the two call girls (think Carey Mulligan-lite) and almost sells a trite monologue about her character’s abusive childhood. But then there’s Novakovic, who overacts every scene, trying way too hard to act brash and tough as she bangs on tables to get drinks in bars and gives out blow jobs like they are lollipops. These two girls also spend most of the movie snorting lines and drinking two cases of red wine, and yet they seem pretty unaffected by the stomach-pump-worthy amount of substances in their systems (Clemens gets bonus points for at least attempting to look tired).

At the core, Reeves is playing a man is filming two young girls as they urinate, talk about sex, and get high. While his character is somewhat asexual, his filming them performing these actions gives the film a layer of perversity that is pretty uncomfortable to watch. Almost more uncomfortable than watching Reeves’ John down a cupcake in extreme closeup.

Generation Um… is a film that is wholly without a point. Having the word “Generation” in the title, it’s implied that its intent is to capture a group of people who are perhaps indefinable, aimless. This particular generation is represented by two coked-up prostitutes and a weary middle-aged man. While Reeves can be great when utilized properly, and he is here, it’s just a shame that absolutely nothing else was.

The Upside: Some okay moments from Keanu Reeves and Adelaide Clemens.

The Downside: Misguided editing devices, overacting from Bojana Novakovic, taking up time with filming random objects, and the creepiness of it all

On the Side: Despite this misfire, Clemens seems to have a bright career in front of her, as she is on the acclaimed Sundance Channel show Rectify, and will appear in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.