Restless (2011)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/22/11 23:08:48
Is there another filmmaker out there today who is generally agreed upon as being a significant artistic talent who is simultaneously capable of turning out absolute disasters as Gus van Sant? On the one hand, he has come up with such ambitious and innovative works as "Drugstore Cowboy," "My Own Private Idaho," "To Die For," the stunning death-related trilogy of "Gerry," "Elephant" and "Last Days" and "Milk"--the kind of films where even those viewer who don't like them for whatever reason are usually willing to concede that they have been made by a gifted director with a unique cinematic vision. On the other hand, he has also come up with such inexplicable and virtually unwatchable disasters as "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," "Finding Forrester" and his infamous shot-for-shot remake of "Psycho"--films so dreadful that it seems impossible that could have come from the person who made (or even simply saw) those previously mentioned titles. Unfortunately, right from its odious first scene, it is immediately apparent that it is the latter van Sant at the helm "Restless," a romantic tear-jerker that is so head-scratchingly awful that it demonstrates that old adage that only a truly great filmmaker is capable of turning out a truly awful movie because only they would have the nerve to go so far off the rails into narrative areas that the merely mediocre wouldn't dare to approach. Under normal circumstances, I am willing to give most films a reel or two before I begin to decide whether it is working or not but right from the very first shot of a kid lying on the ground and drawing his outline in chalk a la a crime scene, I had the sense that I was in for something grim but I never dreamed that I would be sitting through something so twee and melodramatic that it makes "One Day" seem terse and profound by comparison.The kid drawing his outline is Enoch (Henry Hopper, the son of Dennis in his first major role), troubled teenager who, still reeling from the death of his parents in a car accident, lives with his long-suffering aunt (Jane Adams) and attends the funerals of people that he doesn't know. At one, he meets the winsome Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) and she immediately busts him out as a funeral crasher. It turns out that it takes one to know on and when he shows up at another one the next day, she is there as well. After an initial phase in which he unaccountably keeps trying to blow her off and she even more unaccountably continues to pursue him, they finally bond and after a while, she finally admits that instead of merely working with kids with terminal cancer, she is suffering from it herself and now only has about three months to live. During that time, the two more or less fall in love and in between Halloween frolics and elaborate recreations of the suicide scene from "Romeo & Juliet," he teaches her to embrace her impending demise with a cheerful and irreverent spirit and she uses said demise to help him come to terms with the unresolved feeling towards the tragedies of his past so that he can go on after she has gone on. Oh yeah, hovering on the sidelines and commenting from time to time is Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), the spirit of a WWII kamikaze pilot who has become Enoch's invisible friend and seems surprisingly comfortable about serving as the supernatural mentor to a whiny twerp from the Pacific Northwest, except for that one time when Annabel lets slip about how the war ended, something that he evidently never thought to ask about himself.
Right from its opening shot at combining mortality and whimsy, it becomes painfully clear that van Sant and screenwriter Jason Lew would like "Restless" to be considered a contemporary version of "Harold & Maude," the oddly beloved cult classic about the love that unexpectedly blooms between a suicide-obsessed young man and an octogenarian women with a relentless lust for life. As I much as I personally hated "Harold & Maude"--I have always found it to be the kind of unspeakably smug and cloying monstrosity that practically leaps off the screen, grabs you by the lapels and screams "I'M ADORABLE--LOVE ME!!!" until you either surrender or die--I am willing to concede that my distaste for it may simply be a personal thing born of the fact that it has never clicked for me in the way that it evidently has for countless others over the years. "Restless," on the other hand, is such a simpering mess in virtually every way that i was more stupefied by the proceedings than anything else--if a picture had been taken of me at the exact moment that it ended, I probably would have looked like a member of the opening night crowd after the debut performance of the "Springtime for Hitler" number in "The Producers."
Of the central characters, Enoch is a sniveling twerp who starts off by being relentlessly unlikable and then grows more so as things develop--although Henry Hopper does show a bit of the kind of on-screen charisma that may uncannily remind so viewers of his late father, it is pretty much wasted throughout. For her part, Annabel is another one of those adorable pixie-like girls favored by indie filmmakers who exist for no other reason than to bring life to their male counterparts--imagine the Natalie Portman character in "Garden State" with terminal cancer instead of oversized headphones and you get the general idea. Even though most observers are in agreement that Mia Wasikowska is one of the more gifted young actresses working today, even she is unable to make her character into much of anything palatable.The storyline is, I think, supposed to be some kind of winsome modern-day fairy tale about the preciousness of life but is so ham-handed that the scent of bacon is practically in the air in every scene (did I mention the ghost of the WWII kamikaze pilot hanging around, even playing "Battleship" in a couple of scenes?) and when it finally comes to its wanna-be profound finale, those hardy few who manage to make it to the bitter end will find themselves murmuring en masse "Is that all there is?" The only aspect of the film that isn't too painful to consider is the lovely cinematography from regular van Sant collaborator Harris Savides, a considerable achievement when you figure that he was most likely closing his eyes out of sheer disbelief/horror while working the camera.As those of you who read these reviews of mine regularly may recall, the last year or so has been an exceptionally grisly time with a good portion of it consumed by sickness, the contemplation of mortality and even death as a capper. Therefore, it could be argued that I may not be the best person in the world to analyze a film that contemplates such grim and heavy subjects with a decidedly light and whimsical touch. While I am willing to concede that my personal situation may be coloring my judgement to a certain degree, I am still clear-minded enough to recognize "Restless" to be the kind of all-out train wreck that will give even the most devoted fans of Gus van Sant pause--even the notion of remaking "Psycho" virtually shot-for-shot seems sound and sober-minded when compared to the gibberish that he has presented here. Because van Sant is an uncommonly talented director, though one who occasionally allows himself to be unencumbered by anything resembling taste or common sense, I am reasonably sure that he will eventually bounce back from this disaster--perhaps quicker than most of its viewers--and come up with movies that properly demonstrates those talents. Who knows--maybe one day he will come up with something so stunning and powerful that it will allow people to complete forget "Restless," a film about terminal illness that itself expires long before any of its characters.
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