AP Student Disturbed in Kessler’s ‘Keith’

Much like a Nicholas Sparks novel, the plot to the film “Keith” is simple and melodramatic. Natalie (Elisabeth Harnois), practically a superwoman, is finishing her high- school career as a Most Valuable Player tennis star, extracurricular zealot and Advanced Placement chemistry student with a scholarship to Duke University ahead of her. Not only is she bright, talented and gorgeous, she also sports an equally attractive European boyfriend. While most people strive for this kind of lifestyle, Natalie feels completely imprisoned by it.
Keith Zetterstrom (Jesse McCartney) has no future and no allegiance to anything except his yellow beat-up pick-up truck. Keith is such an enigmatic character that we only see the real Keith through his interactions with Natalie. The audience rarely sees any of his private life or his relationships with others. Yet, it is this allure that draws both Natalie and the viewers to him. Combined with charisma and pure insanity, Keith begins to disrupt everything in Natalie’s perfect life when he becomes her lab partner. Not surprisingly, he also begins to change from having an initially cruel intent to ruin Natalie’s life, to a self-discovery that he is as much of a prisoner in his own world as she is.
This plot could be any average Friday-night chick flick, but what makes this movie special is the chemistry between the lead actors. Both portray a good amount of on-screen attraction through their bizarre rendezvous that gives the story its quirkiness. In one particular scene, Keith and Natalie raid a Salvation Army thrift store to buy bowling balls that they place on their teachers’ doorsteps. Their mischief lasts until morning when the pair ends up in a diner with their last two balls that have yet to find a home. Naming the balls Patty and Cosmo, they decide to give them up for adoption and even leave a comically heartwarming note to the waitress in a manner that almost makes this bizarre action normal.
McCartney is surprisingly believable as Keith even though his looks are a bit too pretty for this borderline-maniac character. Haronis, on the other hand, nails down the conflicted beautiful heroine perfectly.
Even though it is a love story, this movie doesn’t end with a Hollywood-styled happily-ever-after. In fact, a dramatic turn occurs after Natalie discovers the reason for Keith’s long periods of absence, his volatile moods and why he doesn’t seem to care at all for the future. Older audiences can appreciate the darker side of the story, which deals with real-life issues and our own morality.
Adapted from a short story written by UC Irvine professor Ron Carlson, who read the piece before the movie was screened last Thursday in HIB 100, the soul of this story doesn’t come from the romance between the main characters, but through their individual strengths which counter their individual weaknesses. In lieu of the fact that this film is comprised of a cast full of Disney starlets, “Keith” takes audiences to a whole other level of bittersweetness that can warm even the coldest of hearts to melt for a charmingly simple high school love story.