Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, and why we still want them together 25 years after Speed
As the action-thriller turns a quarter of a century old, Adam White looks at the internet’s fascination with coupling up the film’s stars
I’m the lonely guy,” Keanu Reeves didn’t say last week. “I don’t have anyone in my life ... hopefully it’ll happen for me.” These quotes went viral shortly before they were revealed to have been entirely fabricated, just like the ones that Drew Barrymore denies ever giving to an Egyptair inflight magazine last year. But inevitably we believed them, their sweet, weary optimism fitting the image of a man we have long decided is beautiful, profound and achingly sad, and someone whom we all desperately want to find love. Specifically with Sandra Bullock.
In recent years, every mention of Sad Keanu, the meme that has helped turn Reeves into the internet’s most enduring and universally agreed-upon imaginary boyfriend, has been trailed by a responding Twitter call urging Sandra Bullock to come and rescue him. Forever intertwined as co-stars, friends and fantasy romantic partners, the pair share remarkably similar public profiles, the same melancholy energy, and a mutual inoffensiveness that makes anyone sending animosity their way appear untrustworthy. And regardless that it’ll never happen, and that Bullock has been very happily involved with photographer Bryan Randall since 2015, it hasn’t stopped many of us, in our weakest or silliest moments, wishing they’d truly get together.
Twenty-five years ago this week, Speed introduced us to their unique appeal as co-stars. The film remains one of the all-time perfect action movies, a relentless onslaught of thrills, set pieces and quotable dialogue, but it lingers most in the mind for one specific reason: it’s also a secret romantic comedy, the only difference being that Reeves and Bullock’s meet-cute involved a bomb on a bus. “Relationships that start under intense circumstances, they never last,” Bullock quips towards the end of the film, in reference to the explosions, kidnappings and hostage crises that came before. But it’s a line that wouldn’t feel out of a place in a Kate Hudson movie, while the trajectory of their characters’ relationship over the course of their bus ride treads ground that will be familiar to anyone who has watched You’ve Got Mail too many times – initial distrust, cagey bartering and blossoming feelings, before full-blown attraction.
That the pair are such a warm and compelling double act in the film is particularly impressive considering Annie, Bullock’s character, is a complete non-entity on paper. Watch Speed again and look past Bullock’s wonderfully daffy performance and you won’t find out any of Annie’s personal interests, nor what she does for a living. She doesn’t even get a last name until the sequel. But somehow, through sheer force of will, Bullock makes Annie an equal to Reeves’s Jack, the pair perfectly in tandem with one another despite a script that gives her little to work with.
When Jack loses faith, Annie picks him up. When she hits a homeless woman’s baby carriage full of tin cans, it’s Jack that calms her. They’re also ludicrously sexy together. When, at the very end, Annie pledges to base their fledgling relationship around sex rather than the intense situation they’ve barely gotten out alive from, you genuinely believe they’re about to get frisky right there in that upturned subway carriage.
On set, Reeves and Bullock were interested in one another. “It was hard for me to ... really be serious,” Bullock confessed to Ellen DeGeneres last year. “He would look at me and I’d be like [giggles].” She added that they had never actually dated. “There’s just something about me that I guess he didn’t like...” Only that wasn’t strictly true. “She obviously didn’t know I had a crush on her either,” Reeves told DeGeneres last month. “It was nice to go to work, she’s such a wonderful person and a wonderful actress.”
By now, Reeves’s ineffable melancholy is well-known, immortalised through gloomy paparazzi pictures and his run of roles playing stoic, endearing loners like John Wick and The Matrix’s Neo. But Bullock has her own melancholic aura, too. It’s harder to spot, or at least harder to remember, possibly because she’s most famous for her shiny, girl-next-door roles. But it’s definitely there, Bullock often projecting a quality that is downbeat and battle worn. Intriguingly, it surfaced right after Speed, Bullock choosing roles that saw her play lonely rather than effervescent.
Whether in romantic comedies like While You Were Sleeping or thrillers like The Net, Bullock nails a kind of guarded self-isolation, her characters choosing to take themselves out of the world in order to get through the day. It’s an outsider quality that’s all over her filmography – in the casual if genuinely mean workplace ribbing she experiences pre-makeover in Miss Congeniality, the detached hostility that ultimately saves her life in Bird Box, or the way Alfonso Cuaron sent her to the loneliest place imaginable, literal space, in Gravity. But the most striking incarnation of this less appreciated element of Bullock’s skillset occurred when she collaborated with Reeves for the second time.
No one ever really talks about The Lake House, primarily because it is insane. But the 2006 film, which reunited the pair as two lonely souls finding one another via a mystical time portal located in a lakefront mailbox, is the finest distillation of the pair’s plaintive energy, and a film that entirely hinges on our pre-existing desire for the pair to make out with each other.
They are Kate and Alex, the former living in 2006 and the latter in 2004, who are linked by their respective ownership of the titular house. They correspond via letters, about boring tenancy details at first, before realising the magic of their mailbox. They can’t explain what is happening, and neither can the needlessly convoluted film itself, but they strike up a friendship, which slowly evolves into love.
Intriguingly, Reeves and Bullock only truly share one scene in the film, and the credibility of their characters’ mutual attraction singlehandedly rests on it. Taking place in 2004, after Alex tracks down the Kate that exists in his timeline, it is a scene captured in one single static shot, director Alejandro Agresti allowing the purity of the pair’s chemistry to flourish uninterrupted. Through eight minutes of dialogue, Kate recalls the life she could have lived, Alex falls in love, they dance to Paul McCartney and finally share a kiss.
Released 12 years after their first on-screen collaboration (Reeves having wisely passed on Speed 2), The Lake House was an unexpected choice for a reunion. But it feels, in an odd sense, more of a tonal fit for the pair than the bright, high-octane action of Speed, both Reeves and Bullock then, and certainly now, matching its autumnal weariness. As beloved and uniquely ordinary and approachable as they appear, certainly in comparison to how enormously rich and famous the pair are, they’re also adults who we know have survived very public traumas (the pair have famously contended with tragedy, stalkers and personal betrayal within the past two decades), and have emerged clear-headed if a little bruised.
In any good fictional romance, part of the pleasure in watching two people fall in love is in the moments where love is barely on the table. When it is lingering and unutterable, obvious to everyone around them but shot down in flames a little too enthusiastically if explicitly stated. And Reeves and Bullock, or at least the version of them that we think we know, occupy that warm middle ground. They are two people with such sincere chemistry and friendship, who have lived such similar public lives and reacted to their extreme fame with similar degrees of charity and kindheartedness, and who at least at one point shared a mutual attraction, but have yet to actually come together.
And to see that in action, the vague illusion of two people slowly dancing around one another through the years, gives us a little bit of hope for our own lives. That something that once seemed promising but didn’t pan out might come around again, or that romantic love will eventually coalesce when the time is right. Wanting Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock to become a real-life item is, without question, weird. But it’s a weirdness that provides a level of starry-eyed comfort that suggests a kind of order within chaos. And if they’re never going to actually get together, a third on-screen collaboration wouldn’t be the worst thing they could do for us. Consider it another act of charity. The world needs it.