REVIEW: Gus Van Sant's Restless Is Sweet, If Feather-Light
Restless is so fluttering and tender, so guileless, that you almost can't believe it was made by an grizzled old hand like Gus Van Sant. Then again, maybe you can. Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) and Enoch (Henry Hopper, son of Dennis) play somber teenagers who meet at a memorial service. Enoch is haunted by the death of his parents -- he lost them suddenly in an accident. Annabel has her own secret, spilled early on: She's dying of cancer. They fall in love, quickly and fervently, knowing only doom and sadness await them -- and they've never even seen Love Story.
Restless is, in places, ever-so-silly. When Enoch accompanies Annabel to the hospital on a "date" -- she has to have a transfusion -- they wile away the time playing Operation. He gazes at her sensitively: "Does it hurt when they...?" The question trails off, delicately. It probably does, but Annabel isn't about to belabor the point. Elsewhere, they run hand-in-hand down a hospital corridor, merrily and mischievously, so they can sneak into the morgue. Ah, young love!
Do they still make young people like this? I'm not sure. But Van Sant, I think, is wishing they did. It's hard to say exactly when Restless is supposed to be set, but it doesn't feel contemporary. Annabel and Enoch romp around in the kinds of vintage clothes many of us wore in the '70s and '80s (and some of us even beyond): Old silk dressing gowns, lacy flapper dresses, loose woolen coats in soft plaids. Hopper's Enoch has blondish, every-which-way hair and a sultry pout -- he could be the Boy with the Thorn in his Side that Morrissey sang about so long ago. And, perhaps most remarkable of all, neither of them ever use an electronic device -- they talk face-to-face all the time, and actually seem to enjoy it.
Restless is really just a wisp of a movie -- there's very little to hold this bit of dandelion fluff to the ground. But it's painless to watch. Hopper and Wasikowska are sweet together, and she, in particular, knows how to play guilenessness as something other than a kind of vapidity. (She brought an exquisite matter-of-factness, and plenty of vulnerability, to Cary Joji Fukunaga's fine adaptation of Jane Eyre, the kind of performance that bodes well for a young actress's future.) These two young performers emerge relatively unscathed from the heartfelt absurdity of the movie around them. They sure don't make 'em like they used to. Which is why, every once in a while, it's nice to see someone try.
[This review appeared earlier, in a different form, during Movieline's coverage of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.]