September 30, 2011
By Marc Glassman
Gus van Sant, director
Jason Lew, script
Starring: Mia Wasikowska (Annabel), Henry Hooper (Enoch), Ryo Kase (Hiroshi), Schuyler Fisk (Elizabeth)
Enoch and Annabel meet cute in Gus van Sant’s film about love, late adolescence and death, Restless. When Annabel spots Enoch at a funeral oration, she’s seems to immediately realize that he’s a kindred spirit. She intervenes when a chapel official questions why he’s there, claiming that he’s her boyfriend. And soon enough, he is.
Pretty soon, they’re crashing funerals together. The two are young, androgynous and beautiful. They’re haunted by death and you want to know why.
Turns out that Enoch’s parents died in a car crash–and he barely survived it. Since then, he’s had a new best friend, Hiroshi, the ghost of a Second World War kamikaze pilot.
Annabel’s tale trumps Enoch’s: she’s dying of cancer.
The two spend Halloween together. And nearly every other day. They play act death scenes and wander the streets of Portland, Oregon exchanging anecdotes and mock profundities.
Restless would be immensely tedious except for Gus van Sant’s coup: he’s cast the leads perfectly. Dennis Hopper’s son Henry is a ghostly ringer of his dad. While he can’t replicate his father’s intensity, Henry has a compelling look that makes him a more than acceptable leading man for this film.
Far better is Mia Wasikowska, who is beautiful and funny and vulnerable as Annabel. What is it with Australia and great leading ladies? Wasikowska hails from Down Under, where Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts and Abbie Cornish have already blazed a trail of compelling blonde beauties who can emote with the best of them.
Already a star as Alice (in Wonderland) and Jane Eyre, she makes the film worthwhile.
As for van Sant, you’ve got to wonder why he didn’t demand more control over this project from producers Ron Howard and his daughter Bryce Dallas. The story is only superficially quirky. Mostly, it’s a soft, romantic tale of young love gone awry.
Will Restless become this generation’s Love Story? I doubt it—but will be looking forward to more films with Wasikowska and Hopper. And films that van Sant controls–and doesn’t just direct.