Restless

17 Oct

Title: Restless
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Gus Van Sant
Writer: Jason Lew
Starring: 
Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, thematic elements and brief sensuality
Runtime: 
91 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 
35%

 

Gus Van Sant is one the most interesting filmmakers working today in my opinion, you look at his films and see titles that range from My Own Private Idaho to Good Will Hunting to Elephant to Milk, films that tackle very different themes and genres and styles, and yet films that are all pretty damn excellent in their own way. So I was certainly very excited to see his latest film, Restless, and even though this one doesn’t rank amongst his greatest efforts, it’s still a pretty decent flick. The thing though is that the reason I don’t think it was truly great is the fact that Mr. Van Sant kind of didn’t do his thing here, and the film just stays as this sort of exercise in twee filmmaking and doesn’t offer a compelling enough look at what laid beneath that exterior. Though, what it does offer is yet another stellar performance from the amazing Mia Wasikowska who’s quickly becoming one of he finest actresses of her generation.

It’s really Ms. Wasikowska’s performance that makes Restless as touching as it ended up being at times, a finely nuanced performance as a dying girl who teaches the rather morbid boy that falls in love with her how to really live, at times seeming as though her nature expresses the acceptance of her destiny, one that’s marked by a cancer that will only grant her three more months of life, at times seeming as though it expresses denial. You can spike up a conversation about that, about whether Annabel was just wholly accepting about her fate or just in denial about it and living life as she usually did, but it really doesn’t matter, what matters is her relationship with Enoch, the guy played by Henry Hopper (son of the late, great Dennis Hopper) with whom she sparks a weird kind of relationship, as he shares with her his love for going to funerals of strangers.

That’s right, this is a film in which the meet-cute takes place at a funeral, I told you it was all very twee. Enoch is just obsessed with death, drawing a chalk outline around his body like they would if he were dead and part of a crime scene. It’s with this sort of depressive young man that Annabel, who has a brain tumor, starts to shyly develop a very tender sort of relationship. She’s lovely, and the way Ms. Wasikowska plays her adds a lot to the character, a girl who doesn’t seem to show any kind of sadness or horror at her impending demise, but that instead is just living life in all sorts of beautiful vintage outfits and embarking in this quiet love with Enoch. If you think this is all too whimsical for you, well, you may be right, there’s a lot of quirky elements at play here, including Hiroshi, the ghost of a kamikaze pilot that happens to be Enoch’s other best friend. Told you the kid had a thing for all things death-related.

But it’s really cool how this relationship is set up, and how it makes Enoch be interested in the living for what seems to be the first time, as Annabel says that her illness can’t be the basis of their relationship, since she wants to experience true, pure romance for the first time in her life before she has to die. The title I guess refers to the emotions that Enoch experiences, even though the film is a pretty calm affair you can just feel him being this more kind of agitated soul. Not to take a dig at young Mr. Hopper, who I’m actually looking forward to see in whatever he does next, but it would have been cool to see what a more experienced actor, one who could match what the wonderfully expressive Ms. Wasikowska brought to the screen, would have done with a character like this.

This is Gus Van Sant we’re talking about, I must say again, so this is a guy who certainly knows how portray young love tremendously well, as you can see in My Own Private Idaho or Paranoid Park, and even though this one isn’t as amazing as some of his finer accomplishments, it still has him working his magic, the thing is that from a director of his caliber I wanted more than for him to make the twee elements restrained and not overkill, which he does, what I wanted was for him to dig deeper into them, which he really doesn’t here, at least not as much as I wanted him to. But you might as well not think about that an allow yourself to get lost in the aesthetically beautiful film Mr. Van Sant has crafted here with his usual cinematographer Harris Savides, a guy who has also worked on other terrific-looking films like Zodiac and last year’s Somewhere, these two always produce really lovely films to look at.

This is a good little film, though I would be lying if I said it was just what I expected, I kind of wanted something better than this. That being said this is still a film that’s certainly more than worth your time, and the plot is just tremendously fresh. This is a film about a tender little romance, one that’s about escapism and mutual consolation, about two souls who create this pretty transcendent romance with this horrible disease as backdrop, even though the harsh realities of the illness are mostly kept off-screen. And that’s really the biggest issue I have with this film, the love story is tremendous, mostly because of what Ms. Wasikowska and Mr. Hopper do with their eyes more than what they do with the words given to them by the actual script, but while I definitely felt for these characters, I didn’t think the story recognized the gravity of its own stakes, and if it had I guess maybe Mr. Van Sant would now have yet another modern classic in his hands.

Grade: B

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