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Friday, 21 October 2011 00:00

'Restless' Makes Viewers Restless in Counterproductive Ways

geektyrant.com geektyrant.com
Written by Diane Carson
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At the heart of director Gus Van Sant's film Restless is a delicate, difficult situation. Sweet teenager Annabel has terminal brain cancer and knows she faces imminent death. In her final months, she finds love with Enoch, a distraught soul mate whose parents died in an automobile accident that nearly killed him. Tentatively, cautiously they provide each other support.

Enoch, psychologically struggling with acceptance, escapes into an imaginary world with invented companion Hiroshi, a WWII kamikaze pilot's lingering ghost. Enoch and Annabel meet, rather in Fight Club style, at various funerals they attend, each interrogating his or her fears and questions. This scenario provides Van Sant the opportunity to contemplate all the critical issues of existence: how we live to the fullest, our values and our priorities, our acceptance of reality even when it is deeply disturbing, our ability to find joy despite all the sling and arrows.

In many films—Elephant on the Columbine shootings, Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho, and Paranoid Park, Van Sant has shown his brilliance in depicting the deeply conflicted, immensely complex lives of troubled teenagers. In this arena he's better than any other director working today, but even Van Sant can't quite make Restless work. Based on his play, screenplay writer Jason Lew reaches too often for lyrical, poetic moments punctuated with too few moments of turmoil. Certainly fortunate individuals do experience the acceptance modeled here, but that doesn't drive a plot forward for long.

Make no mistake, I like the serious subject matter and Van Sant does avoid many sentimental, maudlin traps. However, Harris Savides' cinematography paints too many scenes with a golden glow, and Danny Elfman's music, along with other song choices, lacks the bite the score should deliver. At the Cannes press conference after Restless' premiere, several critics complimented Van Sant for eliminating today's pervasive, intrusive technology—cell phones, iPods, computers. This keeps the focus on the central couple's concerns, the way we can focus during traumatic experiences. With this underpinning of psychological truth, I kept rooting for the film to be better, less languorous and self indulgent. But it opts for cute: Enoch's fantasy figure and the almost always bucked up dying girl. It has promise that it doesn't fulfill, especially since Mia Wasikowska shows again, as in Alice in Wonderland and Jane Eyre, that she's up to any acting challenge.

Henry Hopper plays Enoch, and ]Van Sant dedicates Restless to Henry's father, the late Dennis Hopper, a touching tribute. Restless is playing at the Hi-Pointe Cinema.

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