Film News

Gus Van Sant's "Restless" a painful experience

Gus Van Sant, director of the movie "Milk", poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills, California November 8, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - “Seen any good funerals lately?” asks one funeral junkie to another in “Restless,” a terminally cloying and mushy-headed romance between a cancer-stricken young woman and an orphaned teenager whose closest confidant is the ghost of a kamikaze pilot.

The most banal and indulgent of Gus Van Sant’s periodic studies of troubled kids, this agonizingly treacly tale comes off like an indie version of “Love Story” except with worse music (courtesy of Danny Elfman). Gullible teen girls represent the target audience for this Sony Pictures Classics release, as most people of voting age will blanch at such a cutesy depiction of adolescent angst. Currently screening at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, it opens September 16.

Both dressed in fashionably funky style, Enoch (Henry Hopper) and Annabel (Mia Wasikowska of “Alice in Wonderland”) meet at a funeral and bond over their mutual morbid obsession, which they have for opposite reasons: Enoch lost his mother and father in an automobile accident that, he claims, left him dead for three minutes before he bounced back, while Annabel has brain cancer, which will take her within a few months.

Fascinated by animals and the natural order of things, Annabel idolizes Charles Darwin and puts on a madly positive, enthusiastic front, knowing she needs to experience whatever she can of life in a very short time. She can therefore be excused for being a bit pushy with Enoch, who has basically shut down after his parents died and is difficult to bring out of his shell.

Enoch seems content, in fact, to converse mostly with his buddy Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), a ghost who dresses in the uniform of Japanese World War II suicide pilots and also discusses the details of the seppuku ritual with the death-obsessed young American.

Still, the flesh-and-blood Annabel finally manages to exert a greater influence on Enoch when, after a date at the morgue and being chased by cretins on Halloween, they evolve from confidants to lovers in a mild encounter that possesses a surprisingly weak charge.

Van Sant can be good at creating private worlds inhabited by sensitive and/or disturbed characters, but here the individuals are simply not very interesting. The project started as a group of short plays and vignettes by NYU student Jason Lew, a fellow classmate of co-producer Bryce Dallas Howard who subsequently worked them into a play and, ultimately, a script. It still feels sketchy, however, neither deeply developed nor very nuanced.

With her Mia Farrow haircut and winsome air, Wasikowska is a welcome presence as always, but one wishes she had more levels to play than brave and resolutely upbeat. In his film debut, Hopper, son of Dennis Hopper, is tousle-haired and cute but struggles to bring dimension and nuance to Enoch’s balkiness.

Shot by Harris Savides in the Portland, Ore., area, “Restless” has a rather washed-out look, especially in the darker interiors. Elfman’s score is uncharacteristically sappy, emphasizing all that’s most annoying in the material.