Thursday, April 28, 2011

Keith - Instant Stream Review


Theatrical Release Date: September 19, 2008

It is at times like this that I absolutely adore and admire Netflix Instant Watch. Only on that service is it possible for me to come across such horrible garbage on a constant basis while also finding that rare diamond in the rough like this that apparently nobody has seen (rotten tomatoes has no reviews for it). It is amazing what the random browsing of that service can sometimes introduce me to.

Review Vital Stats:
Service: Netflix Instant Watch
Download Type: Stream
Picture Quality: SD

Loves: Unconventional romances
Likes: Both of the lead actors whom I had never heard of before
Neutral: Nothing actually
Hates: The crappy presentation this has on Netflix (what is up with the non-anamorphic letterboxing?)
MIA: Jennifer Grey is in this...remember her from a little film called Dirty Dancing?

I usually use this opening paragraph to give some quick impressions on how or why I sought out the film in question or some background on how it came to be. This is one of those happy circumstances where I have no such impressions to give because I had never even heard of this film or it's two lead actors until I was randomly scrolling through the romance section of the Netflix Instant Watch service. I simply saw that it had a fairly high rating and was in the mood for a little romancing. After I fully committed by pressing that play button I had no idea what exactly I was in store for though. What is it exactly that inspired me to go through all this trouble to give my thoughts on the film? Quite simply because it is a well made film with two great lead actors that I felt needed to be known.

Natalie (Elisabeth Harnois) is your typical high school beauty queen that has it all worked out from where she wants to go after graduating using a Tennis scholarship all the way up to a career running a high class magazine one day. Her friends are comprised of the cliche high school types such as the self-centered best friend and a chiseled Latin lover boyfriend named Raff (Ignacio Serricchio) who both occupy most of her free time whenever possible. Her mother (Jennifer Grey) and father (Michael McGrady) are heavily active in her life as well with her father taking the liberties to make sure she gets into the college he always wanted to go to but couldn't. Her life is seemingly perfect and with no distractions she will most likely achieve every goal she and her parents have laid out for her.

Natalie meets Keith for the first time.

A distraction does pop up into her life though when she first arrives in her chemistry class. That distraction is a young man by the name of Keith (Jesse McCartney) who has been assigned as her lab partner for the duration of the course. Keith has all the appearances of the usual slacker teen that dresses and acts like a rebel to just upset the balance which is just the kind of person that Natalie and her friends have always tried to avoid. We are informed that he has a high intellect when he wants to apply it but the trick is getting him to want to do so. Which is unfortunate for Natalie who needs a stellar grade for the class in order to assure her placement in the prestigious college that her father wants to place her in. So the problem becomes how will she get Keith, a boy that doesn't seem to care about looking forward for some reason, to help her achieve something that he himself does not care about. Over the course of their last year in High School together as Natalie endlessly tries to get Keith to assist her in their final project they end up forming a relationship that will test them both mentally and physically the likes of which neither ever expected.

Without a doubt the key ingredient to any good romance is not only the chemistry between the two lead actors but also the believability in the manner in which they connect. Like I mentioned earlier I had no idea who either actor was and had never (knowingly) been exposed to any of their work in the past. I was blown away by both of them though but more so with the charismatic and engaging performance from Elisabeth Harnois. She has somehow found that very fine balance of being an uptight preppy girl while also being likable. I think that has a lot to do with the subtleties that she infuses into all her scenes, you get the sense that she has been raised to believe things one way but as she continues to spend more time with Keith that facade of superiority slowly starts to fade away which begins to show a real human being underneath. All that is made even more impressive by the fact that she was 29 years old when the film was made and I never once doubted that she was a teenager (I found out about her age after the fact).

Natalie is the school sweetheart that everyone loves.

The other piece to the puzzle was of course Jesse McCartney as Keith. He didn't have it any easier with a character that is mostly shrouded in mystery. We know that he has been seeing a psychiatrist for something and that he has an inner demon that is tormenting him but the way he manifests the emotions as a result of all those complexities is through a series of goofball remarks and actions that won me over immediately. I know only too well how denial or even acceptance of something that afflicts a person can shape who they are and McCartney does a bang up job conveying that with his performance here. Just like Natalie we are intrigued and often times moved by Keith and his actions but we also get confused and frustrated with many of the decisions he makes or things he says.

Every single scene with the two of them together had me mesmerized, there is nothing more touching than seeing two people that think they have life all figured out and to witness as they realize they actually didn't know anything at all. All the chemistry in the world between two actors wouldn't mean a thing if the state in which they connect doesn't feel authentic though (see The Good Guy). As we watch the two of them bond during the many different outings that Keith forces Natalie on we can see the attraction forming, but it is a slow burn just like it should be given the backgrounds that each comes from. Although Natalie was reluctant to doing anything with Keith at first she quickly discovers how much fun it is to be dangerous, she has never done anything wrong her whole life and when Keith introduces her to this other slice of life she finds that perhaps she has been missing out on a lot of things that her friends and family have tried to steer her away from.

Keith is the school rebel that everyone stays away from.

I suppose the underlining message the movie drives home is that we should always live life to it's fullest and take nothing for granted which is something I couldn't agree with more. Ultimately the blossoming romance between Natalie and Keith isn't really about the two teenagers flirting with one another. Instead I got more of a feeling it was about how they opened each other up to knew things in life. While Keith makes Natalie an accomplice to all his pranks to help shake her out of the shell that has been building around her for her whole life, Natalie in turn attempts to have Keith fulfill the extreme promise he displays. She knows he is much smarter than he pretends and is constantly trying to have him ditch the wiseguy routine and actually feel something once in his life. However, Keith has a secret that prevents him from opening up like he wants to which brings me to what I feel is the primary theme of the film.

The love story itself is well developed and as a result we can't help but feel connected to both of these kids as they go through the motions. But when the true nature of Keith's problem finally comes to light (and how his fateful pairing as Natalie's lab partner had nothing to do with fate) it is then where everything came together for me. This isn't a story about two people falling in love, this is a story about two people helping one another. The fact that they fall in love is more or less a result of the affections they learn to feel towards each other as they (mostly Natalie) learn one of life's greatest lessons at a pivotal point in their lives. I would let you in on the secret but that would be robbing you of the wonderful revelations the film piles up that helped it give so much impact to me. Suffice to say that Natalie and Keith have effected each others lives by the end in the most positive way imaginable and it was done beautifully.

Natalie and Keith share an intimate dinner with their bowling ball children.

Now, I can't imagine anyone having much of an issue with the film, like I said before the two lead actors are top notch in their performances and the story that is told is a deeply moving and emotional one. But I suppose I should point out some weak links just to be fair while also defending them a bit. Natalie's parents are your typical drama parents that don't ever take the time to find out what is going on in their daughter's life. They just get upset when Natalie misses a Tennis match or act sad when she discloses the new direction she wants to take her life. But they are so off on the sidelines that none of that really bothered me and by the end of the film they were practically out of the movie anyways. 

Natalie's friends are also your typical shallow High School students. They only care about the people in their inner circle and when Natalie starts hanging around Keith a lot they eventually just stop communicating with her altogether which is just silly. Natalie's boyfriend Raff is the most shallow guy in the whole film though. He is constantly getting upset at her for doing stuff with Keith. Even when she informs him that Keith has got some serious problems he still just doesn't get it. I did love the moment when she dumped him though and her closing words were just perfect. I guess it is kind of sad that all the supporting characters weren't as fully realized as our two main leads but the only defense I can give is that they all thankfully don't have much time on screen and thus very little impact. Once Natalie and Keith start going on their adventures more often it became less and less of a issue for me.

Most people don't understand what is going on between Natalie and Keith.

I don't know though, I feel like I might be overselling it a little bit. This is not the greatest love story/romance I have ever seen and it doesn't really cover any new ground per say. One of the greatest High School films of this kind that I often found myself remembering while watching Keith was the classic 80's Corey Haim film Lucas. That movie had a lot of heart to it and Keith does as well. Whenever a movie gets me over emotional like Keith did I can sometimes over do it a bit and the last thing I want is for you to get interested, watch it and think to yourself that it was just OK compared to what I had to say about it. I do believe though that it deserves much better than to be hidden away in a dark corner of the Netflix Instant Watch library.

What else is there to say...? I enjoyed Keith quite a bit and found it to be one of the more inspirational High School tales I have seen. It may not change your life or make you stand up and cheer but it is most definitely worth you time and if you are in the market for a warmhearted, charming and inspiring movie to help you get through a lonely night at home then waste no time and....




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