Film review: Restless

November 25, 2011

As a film project, “Restless” would seem to have all the ingredients for a successful indie drama.

"Restless"

You’ve got the radiant Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) sharing the lead with Henry Hopper – son of the late, great Dennis Hopper. Veteran director Gus Van Sant is at the helm, and Danny Elfman is on the musical score.

There is, unfortunately, the matter of the script.

“Restless” tells the story of young Annabel Cotton (Wasikowska), a terminally ill cancer patient who makes the acquaintance, one gloomy evening, of the gaunt and mopey Enoch Brae, who likes to crash funerals and dress like Morrissey circa 1989.

It seems that Enoch recently lost his parents in a car crash and was in a coma himself for several months. Together, the two teenagers have a proximity to death that young people simply shouldn’t have.

Oh, and Enoch sees dead people.

First-time screenwriter Jason Lew takes this premise and boldly goes where several films have already gone, long before. The script cribs elements from “Harold and Maude” to “Love Story” to the entire career output of Wes Anderson. Quirky pop music plays as Enoch and Annie face death with carefully hip wardrobe choices and insufferably glib gallows humor.

In a dozen different scenes, each of which stops the movie cold, Enoch and Annie exchange the sort of self-consciously eccentric dialogue usually associated with eighth-grade goth girls.

Consider this passage, in which Enoch explains to Annie – on the first date, mind you – that his best friend is actually the ghost of a World War Two kamikaze pilot named Hiroshi.

Annie: “Does he fly?”

Enoch: “He used to. He was a kamikaze.”

Annie: “One of those guys who crashed into ships and things?”

Enoch: “Yeah, one of those guys.”

Annie: “So you’re haunted then?”

Enoch: “I guess so.”

Annie: “Huh.”

Despite the precious dialogue, the film’s magical realism elements are its strongest. For instance, its suggested near the end that Enoch sees Hiroshi for a particular reason. When Annie starts seeing the ghost too, it has a devastating significance.

Wasikowska gives a strong performance, exposing the layers of Annie’s fear and anger about facing death at age 17. It’s a real testament to Wasikowska’s abilities as a film actor – all of the film’s best scenes belong to her.

In fact, I had time to reflect on this while tuning out the film’s interminable final scenes. Really good screen actors like Wasikowska express themselves with very specific gestures, phrasings, facial expressions and physical postures. Weirdly, it’s in that very specificity that they convey the universal emotions we connect with as viewers.

I’m forever amazed at this. As bad as this movie is, I couldn’t take my eyes off Annie.

As a total package, though, “Restless” comes off as too twee, too clever, too self-conscious. Worst of all, it feels emotionally dishonest, which simply does not play when your movie is about a teenage girl with terminal cancer. (I haven’t seen it yet, but word is that the similarly themed “50/50,” in theaters now, finds the tone that “Restless” can’t.)

Also, director Van Sant wastes a lot of time pointing his camera at things that aren’t Mia Wasikowska, which suggests a worrying lack of judgment.

Grade: D
Director: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper, Ryo Kase, Schuyler Fisk
Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief sensuality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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