Restless makes audience sleepy with twee romance
Gus Van Sant's death-obsessed teens avoid comedy or drama
For reasons that now seem inexplicable, in 1998 director Gus Van Sant helmed a shot-by-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. With his new film Restless, Van Sant initially seems to attempt a similar re-do of Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude, a romantic comedy about a death-obsessed young man and a feisty octogenarian. Like Harold, Restless' Enoch Brae is a pale, taciturn teenager who wears old-fashioned black formalwear and quietly crashes strangers' funerals.
Played by Dennis Hopper's son Henry Hopper, Enoch meets a kindred spirit at one memorial service, but instead of a wisecracking Holocaust survivor, she's a porcelain-skinned free spirit his age, Annabel (Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska). A budding naturalist and Charles Darwin fan, Annabel takes a shine to Enoch and prompts him to lower his emotional defenses. Love blossoms between them, even though a medical crisis suggests they'll only have a few months to spend together.
In Restless's oddest detail, Enoch's best friend turns out to be Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), the English-speaking ghost of a young Japanese kamikaze pilot. Even without the supernatural sidekick, Jason Lew's script proves relentlessly twee, with plenty of scenes of Enoch and Annabel trick-or-treating, riding bikes in graveyards and engaging in other allegedly life-affirming activities. Restless rarely uses the characters' nonconformity as a vehicle for actual jokes, yet avoids the opportunities for raw feelings. The movie seems even more emotionally blocked than Enoch.
Hopper and Wasikowska tend to emphasize their roles' superficial quirks over their deeper dimensions, but at least Van Sant loves them as camera subjects, treating Wasikowska as another Audrey Hepburn. The brief moments when the couple's attraction heats up provide the rare scenes when Restless feels fully awake.