Restless Directed by: Gus Van Sant Cast: Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: September 23, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: A young man who attends strangers' funerals (Hopper) falls for a young girl with terminal cancer (Wasikowska).
WHO'S IT FOR?: Restless has potential to get older audience members involved with its unique perspectives on death, but it's likely that teenagers and college-aged kids will find this to be the most rewarding. At times, it seems like Van Sant is directly playing to his sporadic hip, young audience.
EXPECTATIONS: This movie did play at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and won an "Un Certain Regard" award. Considering Van Sant's work with teenagers, would this be stylized like Paranoid Park? How hip would it be, and how much would such hipness affect its mood?
ACTORS: Henry Hopper as Enoch: Dressed like a hip whippersnapper, Hopper looks much like his father, but has a Franco-like grin. He even has the handsomely disheveled hair and laid-back attitude of some of Franco’s more popular characters, but without the hazy eyes or fraternal tendencies. Hopper shows that he has some screen presence of his own, and is represent to take the subject of grieving beyond looking like he constantly has a rain cloud casting over him. Sometimes Enoch seems naïve about something he so heavily embraces, and sometimes he seems to actually have some wisdom. While he might talk to ghosts and hang out in graveyards, he isn’t a big bummer. Either way, we are still interested in being with this character. Score: 6
Mia Wasikowska as Annabel: Wasikowska is like a mix of Jean Seberg and what the Onion’s A.V Club has called “The Manic Pixie Girl,” which Nathan Rabin defines as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” While this type of character has been associated with phonier composites before, Wasikowska’s performance is earnest as it walks a fine line between sad and positively indifferent. Score: 5
TALKING: As earnest (and inspired) as the movie might be with its unique take on death, it’s easy to lump in Restless with a whole group of “quirky” movies full of teenagers talking more like screenwriters’ adolescent fantasies than reality, with quick wit and cute sarcastic scenarios (role-playing, basically) to boot. The interactions are cute, (like when they go into the woods and play with flashlights), but it’s not sincere to the way real human beings, never mind teenagers, talk. Score: 6
SIGHTS: Working with such a topic, Restless has a dark sense of humor that challenges death by literally toying with its darkness. The first shot of the movie is even of Hopper lying on his back, drawing his chalk outline on the pavement, and then maneuvering himself to fit into the outline. Later in the movie, after Annabel comes out of a transfusion, we watch as her and Enoch play “Operation” on her hospital bed. There are numerous moments like this, and the relationship between the two is colored a unique shade of gray because of them. The way in which Restless presents these peculiar moments is very matter-of-fact, with no winks or nudges. Their straight-faced presence in the story gently invites us to work with a new angle on death, while seeing that nothing has to be really out of bounds or different under the clouds of mourning, and even sadness. Score: 7
SOUNDS: The score lends itself to more exact shades of the story's gloominess, with a couple pieces penned by Van Sant itself. The Restless soundtrack uses a nice kind of happy, kind of mellow mix of songs by people like Fats Waller, Sufjan Stevens, and Nico. Nico's "Fairest of the Seasons" gets the last word in the movie, and touchingly so. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: The La Notte-like montage is pretty, however direct of a reference/rip-off it might be.
ENDING: Towards the end of the movie, Van Sant makes a nice reference to La Notte with a brief montage of all the places that Enoch and Annabel had shared moments in.
REWATCHABILITY: As enjoyable as Restless might be with its unique sensibilities, it's still a heavy experience. I'd watch it again to share it with a curious friend, but that's probably it.
Henry Hopper, son of the late Dennis Hopper, plays Enoch, a young boy who essentially crashes funerals. He doesn’t make a scene at these ceremonies, or do anything to intentionally disrespect those who are being honored. He just likes to be in the company of the dead, and of those who are able to send-off their loved ones (we find out exactly why later in the movie).
Some of the story elements (like Wasikowska’s character, or even the movie’s love for xylophones) conflict with Van Sant’s intentions to tell a story that does more than just romanticize death for teenagers who already reading “Romeo and Juliet” in high school, etc. (If Michael Cera were in this movie, Restless would truly be dead in the water.) Hopefully they’ll see more than just “being sick” or mourning someone as a way to justify narcissism.
Dedicated to Dennis Hopper, Restless is essentially asking us, “Why does death have to be taken so seriously, if it’s just as much a part of life as living?” It’s a great question, and can feel very effective if given a film-long contemplation.
More inspired than it is original, Restless rescues itself from damning quirkiness with its sweet poetry about death, and its unique perspective on such a heavy, omnipotent subject.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10