Kernel Rating (out of 5):
Length: 91 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Age appropriate for: ages 12 and over. Minimal swearing and one weakly tossed homophobic slur, and some minor scrapping between friends. The teenaged couple at the center of the film share tender smooches and an implied night of bliss.
Twee of Life
Gus Van Sant sends two offbeat teens on an emotional journey thing to discover the triumph of the human spirit or whatever
By Jared Peterson
Quirky teens Enoch Brae and Annabel Cotton first meet at a funeral. Dour in his black tails and rain boots, Enoch is the interloper, a habitual funeral crasher. Annabel, a bright-eyed, Farrowesque wisp, has a reason to be there—in the final stage of terminal brain cancer, she is resignedly, even cheerfully, shopping for ideas for a memorial service of her own. Enoch’s ailing is less fatal but more obvious—painfully, predictably so. He is a bizarre (tails, rain boots) and troubled (dinner table scowling) teenager
(“…or whatever” after every other sentence) whose issues began with the car accident that killed his parents. The crash, in fact, killed him as well—revived after three minutes, he then spent months in a coma before awakening.
That trauma may or may not explain Enoch’s only other companion: Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), the ghost of a young Japanese WWII kamikaze pilot with whom he regularly hangs out and plays board games. (He has a discomfiting knack for Battleship.) Whether Hiroshi is a restless spirit or a coma-induced hallucination is left unclear, but Annabel casually and adorably accepts Enoch’s paranormal/imaginary friend. The two mortals become a tender, timid couple, finding solace in one another. He opens his heart and begins to face the tragedy behind him while she, who already seemed pretty unflapped by it, comes to even more peace with the tragedy ahead.
You wonder how some movies manage to get made. I wonder how some movies manage to keep getting made. Walking away from this screening I just kept thinking, They made this thing all the way through. They took lunch breaks, and nights and weekends off, and every time they came back and just kept on going, no one aware or willing to admit that the exercise was doomed to irrelevance from the start.
Because Restless isn’t like anything you’ve seen before—it’s like everything you’ve seen before. The “last love of the dying girl” story has been done many times before, and much better. The combination of fumbling romance and quirky couture has plagued films from Harold and Maude to Pretty in Pink and far beyond. And like Juno, though far less aggressive, Restless is very much an adult’s idealized vision of offbeat, self-aware teens. The two characters aren’t particularly relatable. (It doesn’t help that they appear to have been named after rejected Flannery O’Connor characters.) They exist outside the structures and strictures of typical teenage life—neither is enrolled in school—with license to float around the autumn greenscape of Portland, Oregon, taking picturesque rowboat rides and drawing birds. (Cut to me choking down my laughter at the thought of the ornithological decorating trend lampooned on the IFC comedy “Portlandia”.)
In the role of Annabel, Mia Wasikowska (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) is well cast (well, understandably cast) as the story’s dying swan, and Henry Hopper, son of the late Dennis Hopper, does rise a touch above his character to demonstrate the beginnings of a promising emotional range. But as a pair supposedly so precocious, they deliver much of their overwrought dialogue with the quarter-power certitude of well coached high school thespians. First-time screenwriter Jason Lew supposedly based the script on a stage play he wrote in college, which comes as no surprise—the sappy, predictable plot and morbidly twee tone have “midterm” written all over them.
Gus Van Sant has no such excuses, though. His career has been a jarring series of opposite reactions. For every Drugstore Cowboy there’s a Psycho, for every Good Will Hunting a Finding Forrester. Now, sooner than expected, it seems we are reaping the Newtonian pushback from the amazing, deservedly award-winning Milk. Due credit to Van Sant for doing, and being in a position to do, films that are important to him. But there is nothing challenging about Restless; it flits about for its 90 minutes, falsely confident of its own import, but leaves the scene having made no impression at all.