A film review by Craig J. Koban July 17, 2013

GENERATION UM... zero stars   

2013, R, 97 mins.


Keanu Reeves as John  /  Bojana Novakovic as Violet  /  Adelaide Clemens as Mia  /  Daniel Sunjata as  Charles  /  Jonny Orsini as Rick  /  Sarita Choudhury as Lily the Waitress  /  Karen Olivo as the Bartender


Written and directed by Mark Mann

You know that you’re in deep, deep trouble in a film when you have a lingering close-up shot of star Keanu Reeves munching on a muffin that literally appears to go on for minutes, contributing very little, if anything, to the overall plot. 

I’d like to have breakfast, lunch, dinner…hell…or even just coffee…with Mr. Reeves to talk to him as to why he thought that appearing in GENERATION UM was in any way shape or form a good idea on his – on anyone else’s – part.  The Mark Mann written and directed indie drama – which attempts, I think, to show a portrait of the daily lives of three downtrodden characters eking out a pathetic existence in the Big Apple – is one of the most amateurishly conceived, shot and acted films that I’ve seen in many a moon.  

There is nothing inherently wrong, per se, with a film that tries to distil the depressing existence of its lonely and trouble souls.  Some of the best films that I’ve ever seen have been sad.  Yet, GENERATION UM is more of a depressingly painful endurance test than it is an invigorating and emotionally charged expose of its flawed personalities.  Ultimately, it’s a maliciously aimless film about aimless, dislikeable losers that – through the course of the film’s agonizingly long 97-minutes – you never once have a modicum of interest in. 

Worst yet, the film is almost nightmarishly unendurable for its portrayal of the Seinfeld-ian levels of nothingness that permeates its characters’ lives.  We are introduced to John (Reeves), who works as a driver for an escort service and, at the beginning of the film, is driving home two of his inebriated workers - Violet (Bojana Novakovic) and Mia (Adelaide Clemens) - home to their ramshackle Lower East Side apartment.  While they detox, John decides to meanderingly partake in a long jaunt through his local New York surroundings.  He does so after he can no longer stomach being in his dilapidated bachelor pad, let alone in the company of his obnoxious and overbearing cousin (Jonny Orsini), who seems to be utterly clueless to John’s spiraling-out-of-control depression.   



Viewers in the audience watching this film, within just its first 30 minutes or so, will wish that they could just check out of it and not be subjected to John’s - and the other character’s – emotional woes.  The jittery camera follows John’s gloomy, melancholic state, as he rides subways, looks into store windows, munches on breakfast pastries, and so on.  The only time this stillborn film generates any semblance of a dramatic heartbeat is when John, without much explanation, decides to steal a digital camera from a spectator filming – ahem! – a hula-hooping competition for people dressed liked cowboys.  He then begins to shoot anything that pleases him – like squirrels in trees, for instance – until he decides to return to his two female friends, turn the camera on them, and allow them to reveal their deepest and most intimate internal thoughts.  By this point in the film, I wanted to turn and point a gun to my head. 

There are so few films out there that are as positively soul-crushing and sucking as GENERATION UM.  Here is a film that wants and expects us to pay attention and yearn to be in the company of these scumbags for an hour and a half and take interest in what they are doing and what they have to say.   There is no one to even remotely like or even modestly relate to in the film.  John himself is so ill defined, so monosyllabic, and so ultimately gruff that you kind of have to smack yourself upside the head to be reminded that you’re supposed to give a damn about him.  His two female friends – impenetrably sullen as they are – do not fare much better.  Calling them “friends” is almost a disturbing misnomer.  Violet, for instance, parades around the film in a perpetual alcoholic and drug induced haze so much that she becomes, within five minutes of her being of screen, one of the most easily loathsome and irksome screen characters in many a moon.  The attention-hungry woman, in one truly vile scene, literally forces herself sexually on John in a bathroom stall.  When she’s finished performing oral sex on him she arrogantly belches.  Sigh.

The only thing that could have possibly saved this useless and wasteful exercise in filmmaking would have been its third act, where John – while filming – asks Violet and Mia to voyeuristically make painful confessions to him, but the resulting testimonials from them all provides absolutely nothing in terms of embellishing or at least commenting on their degrading freefall into angst and misery.  After attempting to elicit big, revealing declarations for these women to his would-be inquisitive camera, John then drives them to their next gig, which involves what appears to be a bachelor party at a lavish hotel, where the women have to further debase themselves by participating in an orgy. 

GENERATION UM is the kind of film that makes you want to rush home, jump into the shower, and wash its grimy stench right off of you.  I think that there is certainly an involving and intimately rendered film to be had about chronicling the dispassionate pursuits of deeply dispassionate people trying to make it on their own two feet in Manhattan.  Alas, the manner with which GENERATION UM takes a haphazardly casual to the point of complete formlessness stylistic and narrative approach to its characters becomes more grating and intolerable with each one of its befuddling minutes.  To be fair, Reeves might be pitch-perfectly cast to play a methodically mumblecore character like John (the role requires him to stare stoically, grunt a few lines here and there, and appear in an existentialist stupor through most of the film).  Yet, not even the participation of a big-name actor like him could possibly save this unmitigated failure of a film.  There is nothing on screen here that could possibly convince me to see GENERATION UM ever again or…ummmm…convince me to convince you to ever see it for a first time.

  H O M E