After partying all night in New York City, John Wall (Keanu Reeves) drives his two beautiful but wasted companions, Violet (Bojana Novakovic) and Mia (Adelaide Clemens) home for the day. He returns to find a birthday card from his mother waiting for him at his apartment which leads him to contemplate the state of his life. While Violet sleeps, snorts some coke and watches TV, Mia heads out to buy the same day-old daisies she buys every day. In the meantime John wanders the city observing passers by before he steals a video camera. Meeting up together the three friends clown around on camera and discuss the self-destructive life choices that led them to where they are. Until night falls and it is time to go out again.
Having launched his career in one of the seminal Generation X movies, River's Edge (1986), Keanu Reeves is uneasily promoted to elder statesman in Generation Um... a meandering mumble fest that draws a parallel between mid-life crisis and a sense of a wasted life with another kind of wasted life embodied by the drug-addled, alternately manic or emotionally numb female leads. Too often filmmakers with sweeping existential agendas ruminating on the vacuousness of modern life rely on shrill, abrasive, self-involved characters to serve as their mouthpiece forgetting that if an audience is annoyed they are less likely to care. Shot verité-style on the streets of New York (you can see the odd member of the public do a double-take when Keanu walks past), the first half of the film resembles a more competent variation on the sort of movies Andy Warhol bored art-house patrons with in the Sixties. First-time writer-director Mark L. Mann expects us to be riveted by the sight of Keanu eating a cupcake or pretty girls clowning around in their underwear simply because it is Keanu Reeves and two pretty girls.
Persevere through some of the more grating aspects and the film does start to head somewhere interesting. It depicts the sort of day almost all of us recognize but rarely see in the movies. A day where there is nothing going on and we find ourselves going through the motions, searching after a moment of quiet solace or something to make sense of a seemingly uncaring world. Once John gets a hold of the video camera, stealing it from a flash mob decked out in cowboy hats with hula hoops which sparks a surreal, genuinely comical chase sequence, the film slowly develops an emotional spine. At first John seemingly searches for poetry in the everyday, turning his camera on squirrels and dogs in the park. He then sets out to film confessionals from Violet and Mia which finally flesh out the characters even though Mann does nothing Steven Soderbergh did not do better decades earlier with sex, lies & videotape (1989). Mia recalls her abusive relationship with her mother while Violet discusses her exasperation with the opposite sex.
For all their superficial failings the girls prove more complex, thoughtful, proactive characters able to vent their frustrations in a way John somehow can not. He proves a far more passive figure, despondent over something we only really get a hint of towards the finale. Throughout much of the film Reeves functions as more of a reactor leaving the showier parts to accomplished Australian actresses Bojana Novakovic and Adelaide Clemens who succeed at making two initially grating characters sympathetic. Playing with the familiar concept that people cultivate an emotional numbness to cope with pain, the story takes a darker turn as the real nature of John's relationship with Violet and Mia becomes apparent. Obviously the film is not for all tastes and not all its risks pay off but is well acted and Reeves deserves credit for lending his star-power to projects like this between blockbusters.