Review: Gus Van Sant’s ‘Restless’ Pokes At Heart, But Misses the Mark

by Erina Davidson

Directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Alice In Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska, Restless has all the bells and whistles to make the love-obsessed 14-year-old in me sing. I walked into the theater with high hopes.  And as the end credits rolled up, I still wanted to like it.

Restless is the tale of two youths who are brought together by a shared fascination with mortality. Enoch Brae is a young man struggling to deal with the death of his parents. In his grief and confusion, he ceases to follow the steady flow of teenage life; he spends much of his time playing Battleship with his best friend Hiroshi, the ghost of a Kamikaze fighter pilot. Enoch also frequently attends stranger’s funerals. At one such memorial service, Enoch meets Annabel, a beautiful, quirky terminal cancer patient who is obsessed with Charles Darwin and calls herself a “naturalist”. As their strange encounter quickly turns into an unexpected bond, Enoch and Annabel learn what it is to truly be alive, even as Annabel’s imminent death approaches.

Despite the promise of a unique love story between two eccentric people, the plot and the characters are fairly static and predictable. The romantic aspect of the plot is reminiscent of Garden State, where two youths develop an ‘unexpected’ relationship within a matter of days. A Walk To Remember also comes to mind. The funeral-hopping, mortality-obsessed characters seem to be swooped right out of the plot of Harold and Maude. There is one scene in the film that surprises the audience and challenges the predictable rhythm, but even this scene folds back into the expected story line. The adorable Mia Wasikowska (Alice In Wonderland, Defiance, Jane Eyre) is perfect for the spritely Annabel. Henry Hopper (in his first professional acting gig) accurately portrays teen angst as the troubled Enoch. There’s something a bit young-James-Franco about him. However, ‘Enoch’ could just be another title for the frequently reprised Hollywood role of ‘Dark Troubled Youth’.

Luckily, the characters are given more dimension by the production’s talented costume designer, Danny Glicker (Transamerica, True Blood, Milk). Enoch’s vintage and worn-out ensembles echo the roughness of his loosely-stitched-together life. Annabel’s 20s and 30s-inspired dresses frame her rare, timeless beauty.

Together with Glicker, director of photography Harris Savides helped pull out the right colors in every scene. It isn’t the script that brings beauty to the film – it’s the painterly sets and landscapes as they transition from a Portland autumn to a muted, melancholy winter. The most memorable scenes come from the silent, intimate dialogue – a technique of Van Sant’s – between the main characters and their surroundings.

Above: Ryo Kase (Letters From Iwo Jima) as Hiroshi

In addition to Van Sant and Savides’ artistic vision, the character of Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), the ghost of the Kamikaze pilot, is the highlight of the film. No one knows why he is where he is, but Hiroshi is a necessary component of both Enoch’s life and the plot of Restless. Hiroshi’s background story, though seemingly minor, is the real tearjerker of the film. In some ways, Hiroshi’s bond to Enoch is more believable and genuine than the the one between the two leads. Before Restless was adapted for screenplay, Jason Lew wrote the script for the stage. Perhaps this imperfect transition from play to screen lends to the staticity of the somewhat clichéd dialogue in the film. The silent close-ups of Enoch and Annabel’s tender moments are often more revealing than the spoken words.

Danny Elfman’s delicate, sensitive scoring is the perfect accompaniment. The Beatles, Sufjan Stevens, and Nico also lend their sounds to the film. Nico’s “The Fairest of the Seasons” is an appropriate and very fitting soundtrack to the final scene.

In short, Restless is a “Quirky, Dark Romance Film” with an unremarkable script and little to no character development, packaged in gorgeous, breath-taking artistic direction. The love story of Enoch and Annabel pokes at the heart, but is overshadowed by the unexpected presence of Hiroshi. I recommend seeing it for the costume and set design, but don’t be surprised if you aren’t…well, surprised by how Restless unfurls.

Restless will be in theaters across the U.S. on Friday, September 16th.
Review by Erina Davidson

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