LITTLE ROCK One wants to like Restless, because one roots for Gus Van Sant, a director of uncommon subtlety and occasional grace who is as reliably unreliable as any commercially viable artist working today.
Though Van Sant is capable of earnest sentimentality (see Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester), empty gesturalism (his scene-for scene remake of Psycho) and irritating obscurantism (I know I’m supposed to like Gerry but I just don’t), he’s also provided us witha handful of deeply affecting, marvelously original films that demonstrate the high art potential of popular entertainment.
It’s impossible not to root for the sort of sensibility that can give us movies as diverse and rich in feelings as Paranoid Park, Elephant, To Die For, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho and Mala Noche.
Yet it must be said that Restless is, at best, very minor Van Sant, and that it pales in comparison to the less ambitious yet far more profound cancer comedy 50/50, to which it will inevitably be compared. While that movie made a virtue of the every dayness of its characters, Restless seems contemptuous of “normal” folks, and seems to suggest that the day-to-day business of life is somehow beneath the beautifully souled kids whose conventionally unconventional romance provides the hub of this determindedly quirky movie.
He is Enoch (Henry Hopper) and he’s a depressed and probably suicidal young man who crashes funerals, loses games of Battleship to his imaginary kamikaze pilot friend (Ryo Kase) and displays little evidence of acting talent. She’s the saintly Annabel (the always welcome Mia Wasikowskia), a preternaturally cheerful, would be naturalist who sketches birds and beetles and idolizes Charles Darwin.
She delights in life, while Enoch always seems to be plotting his escape from same (not totally unlike the young Bud Cort in 1971’s Harold and Maude, a film to which this one owes much). And the irony is, she is going to die. In three months, give or take a few days.
They meet at a memorial service where Annabel makes Enoch as a voyeur - she later saves him from a well-deserved scolding by a square funeral director who believes that grieving families ought not have to suffer the morbidly curious. Why she likes him is hard to say, though maybe his obsession is understandable, since he lost his parents in a car crash.
Oh well, they do share a certain fashion sense - he’s given to black Victorian longcoats, while in one scene she dons a duster Kevin Costner would covet. And they’re impossibly cute, she in a Mia Farrow pixie girl way(the doltish kamikaze keep wondering why she dresses in boys’ clothes) and he in an “I’m the son of Dennis Hopper” second-generation Hollywood way.
The only character with which a decent person could feel any empathy at all is Schuyler Fisk as Annabel’s caretaker older sister (their mother is a sentimental lush), who reasonably wonders if it’s a good idea for two such delicate flowers to be spending so much time together.
Maudlin and twee, with an uncharacteristically overtly annoying Danny Elfman score, Restless shares with some of Van Sant’s best work its gritty Portland, Ore., locations and a washed out palette.
Unfortunately, that’s all it shares with it.
MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 10/07/2011
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