If anyone other than Gus Van Sant had directed Restless, the film could have well been impossible to sit through. This awfully precious and twee romance between two young people, Enoch (Henry Hopper) and Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), who have curious hobbies and odd preoccupations, constantly threatens to cross the line into terminally cute and saccharine territory.
But Van Sant, working from a screenplay by Jason Lew and relying on the beautifully crafted images by his usual cinematographer Harris Savides, keeps the film from floating away into evanescence — just barely. Hopper, who bares a strikingly resemblance to his late father Dennis, and Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right, Jane Eyre), a talented young actress who gets better with every new role, keep you engaged while the picture pursues its fanciful conceits (including the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot, play by Ryo Kase, who is Enoch’s best friend).
Enoch and Annabel are obsessed with death: He lost his parents in a car accident and regularly crashes funerals for fun. She is terminally ill with brain cancer but is completely at peace with her fate — the doctors have given her three months to live — and continues her interests in Darwinism and the natural world as if nothing were wrong.
An anti-Love Story, Restless never allows its protagonists to wallow in grief over the inevitable. Instead, they deal with the doom hanging over their affair in a casual manner. “A person can get a lot done in three months,” Enoch points out. “Learn French, go to Africa, pick up the xylophone…”
Annabel, meanwhile, wonders what will happen to her body after she dies. “I think I’d like to have my eyes in a jar,” she tells Enoch. “They’re nice, right? My eyes? Would you come and dust them?”
The actors are beguiling enough to make this self-conscious artifice less annoying than it might have been, and Van Sant shoots the film in an earnest, unsentimental manner, using the beautiful faces of his two lead actors to fill the screen.
But what’s supposed to come off as charming and endearingly odd ends up distancing the audience from the movie instead. You watch Enoch and Annabel with curiosity — two strange, gentle-hearted young people who have found their soul mates and will soon be forced to let go — but the picture never stirs your emotions or touches your heart the way it wants to. Restless is too ethereal and quirky for the viewer to connect with: It’s a study of how to cope with grief and death, populated by characters who seem to hail from another planet.
Cast: Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase, Jane Adams.
Director: Gus Van Sant.
Screenwriter: Jason Lew.
Producers: Bryan Dallas Howard, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 91 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. Opens Friday Oct. 7 in Miami-Dade: South Beach, Sunset Place, Aventura; in Broward: Sunrise, Las Olas; in Palm Beach: Paradise, Shadowood, Delray Square, Delray.