The world tries to cheer up Keanu Reeves
by John Harlow
FANS rally via the web in a campaign to bring a smile to the actor's usually glum face.
WHY so serious, Keanu Reeves; why so glum? For days, internet users have been pondering a stray snap, in which the Hollywood star sits alone on a New York park bench, eating a sandwich and staring blankly at the pigeons at his feet.
His expression, as always, is open to interpretation. Could he be unhappy, thoughtful or merely flashing back to those glorious moments when - as surfing FBI dude Johnny Utah - he drove a bus at 90km/h into the heart of the Matrix?
Perhaps life is simply sometimes confusing for an actor who has confessed that he sees himself as "not so book-smart, [more of] a meathead".
However, he's certainly been smart enough to make his mark, having starred in films that have earned hundreds of millions at the box office.
The consensus, though, is that Reeves is sad, maybe even depressed. Luckily, there is both help and enlightenment on hand, courtesy of the thousands of sympathetic souls who last week celebrated Cheer Up Keanu Reeves Day with an oddly touching flood of suggestions, charity donations, a specially created Facebook page and other internet japes.
Fans uploaded doctored versions of the original photograph, to give the lonely cowboy some company, ranging from chocolate-box kittens to Forrest Gump, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta, the cast of Lost and Lady Gaga.
Other kindly souls decided that exercise was clearly the best solution to Reeves's troubles.
So they manipulated the original image on to a child's tricycle (adding a pink safety helmet), and rather less successfully on to a ski-lift, a pogo stick and a bucking horse.
Then YouTube was hit with dozens of short-lived musical homages designed to make the actor smile.
These involved inserting his image into scenes from the animated adventure film Up, making him hold a balloon, chase a lion and skydive straight out of Point Break into a dance routine with Shrek.
The self-help brigade was also out in force, with many of them composing 10 Reasons To Be Cheerful, Keanu.
These included the gentle reminder that he was dating a hot young Mexican model, that he still had good hair at 45, that lightbulbs had been invented (he is apparently afraid of the dark), and, most important of all, that he was not responsible for the Gulf oil spill, though his expression suggests he's just been called upon to solve the crisis single-handed.
One popular piece of advice was: take up your British citizenship. Which shouldn't be difficult as, although he's Canadian by nationality, his mother - the costume designer Patricia Bond - is a Brit. More tricky was the idea that he could then shoot Speed 3 on a new London Routemaster bus, with Boris Johnson, the mayor, standing in for Dennis Hopper as the arch villain.
Some fans took their quest to cheer up Reeves a little more literally. One claimed to have left a droll message of support on his mother's answering machine, and a video store clerk reported that he had stuck smiley-face stickers on to all the copies of Reeves's more morose romances - Sweet November, Feeling Minnesota and The Lake House.
All of this internet-born madness was whipped up by Daniel Murphy, a 21-year-old American with clearly little else to do. "I'm sure Keanu's doing fine," Murphy said last week.
"I don't really think he's that sad; I just think his work is under-appreciated. His Hamlet was probably one of the best American performances of Shakespeare, ever."
The trouble is, no matter whom he plays, Reeves always comes across as a bit of a Dane. Or, as a few critics have remarked, somewhat lacking in expressive range.
One of the older games on the internet, revived in the present flush of excitement, is Keanu Reeves bingo, where contestants play on a board featuring a dozen pictures of Keanu with near-identical expressions - each captioned with different emotions. The trick is to match up the emotion Reeves is supposed to be displaying with the correct snap - but fear, joy and confusion are surprisingly hard to pick out.
Some of the actor's defenders say that his real talent lies in his voice - a low, flat monotone - and they point out that he lifts an eyebrow even more tellingly than does Roger Moore.
What makes the campaign to cheer up Reeves truly exceptional is its sheer good humour. After all, there are plenty of sarky postings out there about celebrities - Robbie Williams Got Fat, Stars That Look Like Animals and Madonna's Plastic Fantastic are some of the nastier ones - and even more that fawn and dribble. But the majority adding their penny's worth to the Cheer Up Keanu Reeves celebrations last week seemed generous and even concerned.
Many were keen to emphasise the man's niceness. We were told that he'd given $20,000 to a set builder on The Matrix when he learnt the man was about to lose his home; that he'd once stopped his Porsche to rescue a stranded motorist; and that he'd bought strangers breakfast.
Even if these good deeds are no more than urban fairytales - similar stories were told about Errol Flynn in the 1940s - they dip into an unexpected reservoir of public affection for an actor whose popularity is often dismissed as a freak. Murphy then took all this goodwill a step further by appealing for donations for cancer research, as Reeves's sister Kim is suffering from leukaemia. Almost immediately, he was overwhelmed with offers to donate bone marrow or to organise charity walks in the actor's name.
"This is not just the mean and spiteful internet of the early days, when everyone shouted to get heard. People just needed a focus to care, a way of expressing affection, and Cheer Up Keanu Reeves Day brought all the good stuff out," Murphy said.
A pity, then, that CAA, the bigshot Hollywood agency that represents Reeves, saw fit to issue a sour statement: "Keanu Reeves wants to assure everyone that all is well. This situation is the result of a misinterpretation of a paparazzi shot."
The photograph that sparked the tsunami of goodwill was taken in SoHo, New York, by freelance photographer Ron Asadorian for the British picture agency Splash. "It's all a little crazy," said a rather puzzled spokesman for the agency.
Another New York paparazzo, who has often followed the actor, said: "Keanu often wanders round New York alone, dressed like a bum, not attracting attention. He seems lonely, isolated, but that is what he wants.
"He could be with friends. He could be playing with one of his rock bands. But he clearly prefers his own company. And people tend to leave him alone."
Well, perhaps they do. And perhaps Reeves really doesn't need any cheering up.
But if he ever wants to practise a happy expression, he could do a lot worse than look himself up on the internet.