I think everyone can agree that Key and Peele was a great show, and I think all of us were at least a little bit sad when it ended. Though it didn’t hit with every sketch or every episode, the team’s consistent creativity has created some truly classic moments, some of the best sketch comedy to ever grace the small screen. And they decided to go out on a high note, rather than burning out or falling out of favor. At the height of their power, they moved on. (This is a particularly interesting thought now, because more than a few critics feel that Amy Schumer has now outgrown her own show and should have moved on as well.)
Even so, I will admit to being a little apprehensive about Keanu. Not everyone successfully navigates the transition from movie parodies to parody movies, and I’m not particularly looking forward to the movie based on Mr. Garvey, Keegan-Michael Key’s Substitute Teacher character, who I found grating after a couple of appearances. My concern that that film will feel like an overstuffed TV sketch resulted in less excitement for Keanu, to the point where I probably would have skipped it at first if I hadn’t been invited by a friend.
In short: That would have been a massive mistake, because Keanu is great.
Director: Peter Atencio
Release Date: April 29, 2016
Because I know just what my audience wants from comedy film reviews, let’s talk about race! (But, fortunately for most of us, not in the way you might think.)
I’ve now seen Keanu twice: First at a press screening in New York City early last week, and then again yesterday at a movie theater in Seekonk, Massachusetts. The former was packed, in a large theater. But the audience wasn’t just large; it was also mixed. There were all sorts of people there, from all walks of life. (Many NYC press screenings that take place in regular movie theaters allow for members of the public to join in, so it isn’t just stuffy old critics.)
The theater in Seekonk was nearly empty. As I walked in, I saw a group of half a dozen teenagers get turned away by the ticket taker. I assume they were trying to get into Keanu (because they sure as hell weren’t trying to see Mother’s Day). I was surprised, upon getting into the theater, to find it was occupied almost exclusively by old white people. Given the territory, I wasn’t super surprised by the ethnicity, but I was surprised by the age. I think of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as comedians for the younger generation, and so I assumed that any movie that starred them would attract people my age, not twice or three times my age. It was fascinating, really, but what was much more fascinating was the response; specifically, the lack of response, from many of the people in the second theater versus those in the first.
I could, probably fairly, argue that the first crowd laughed too often. When Key showed up for the first time, people laughed. It was like they didn’t know he was going to be in the movie and this was a comedic surprise. In Seekonk, no one laughed. Stony silence.
But I preferred the former, obviously.
Several years ago, I saw a film that ranks among my favorite of all time, Sunny. In my review, I mentioned how weird it felt to see the movie alone, because I spent so much time laughing hysterically, but there was no one there to share that with. Comedy isn’t just about laughter; it’s about shared laughter. I will always prefer a comedy with an audience, a receptive audience in particular.
The white crowd, however… I think they were uncomfortable. Some objectively great jokes early in the film were met with crickets, but many of them were not necessarily racially charged but were racially tinged. Some minor laughs here and there felt uncomfortable. And I stifled my own laughter as a result of it. There was a key moment in the film involving a backflip that marked the turning point. The characters’ immediate reactions to said move are straight-up hilarious, and even stuffy old white men couldn’t help themselves. It loosened them up, and that made the rest of the film more enjoyable for all of us.
So, what’s my point? If you can, see Keanu with a diverse crowd. That is, undoubtedly, an odd thing to say, and some part of me feels uncomfortable saying it, but… it’s true. The fact that Key and Peele are biracial has always been a fundamental part of their comedy, and that is reflected in what they’ve done here. So: Big crowd. Diverse crowd.
(We made it, y’all! Race talk, over! Let’s talk about cats now!)
The Keanu in the title refers to a kitten, who after escaping the site of a brutal massacre, shows up at the door of Jordan Peel’s Rell. Rell is in a funk, because his girlfriend broke up with him, and at first you think that the movie might be about helping Rell get over that sadness, but… nope. Keanu shows up, and Rell is better by the time Key’s Clarence gets to the door to help him out. Instead, Keanu is stolen by the leader of the Blips (the gang that replaced the Bloods and the Crips), and Rell decides it’s time to go get their cat back. In the process, they are mistaken for the Allentown Brothers, two hitmen types (also played by Key and Peele), and it goes from there. But the crucial thing about all of it is that this truly is a film about one man’s relationship with a cat that he has known for a very short period of time. Yeah, Clarence and Rell have their family whatever, and each character grows in some fun ways, and there are certainly other meaningful interactions, but when it comes down to it: Keanu. That’s what this is all about.
And you couldn’t ask for a better heart to the movie. That cat is ludicrously adorable. A recent addition to the cast of New Girl is an animal talent agent, and I like to imagine a character like his bringing this kitten into the audition. I can’t imagine that they didn’t take one look and say, “We’re done. This is the only kitten that anyone will ever need ever.” Some people go to war over women, but Rell and co. go to war over a cat, and I think they’re entirely justified in their actions, no matter how many terrible things they may have to do in the process. Keanu steals the show whenever he’s onscreen, doing some of the best animal work I can think of in any show. I spent as much time thinking about how adorable he was as I spent awed by what the trainers were able to make him do. He’s got a bright future ahead of him as a cat star, and I would be oh-so-okay with that, because he is the most adorable thing in the world.
And honestly, what more to do you need? I could have actually talked about the movie in this review, but why? You don’t need me to list my favorite moments to do that (I could, though (the followup to that backflip is really, really high on the list (just saying))). If you didn’t see that cat and say, “Yup. I’m in,” then there’s nothing left for us to talk about. Of course you should see Keanu. Just, ya know, don’t forget to see it with a crowd.