Morose loner (newcomer Henry Hopper, son of Dennis) who likes to attend funerals and converse with his imaginary WWII kamikaze pilot ghost friend, meets quirky, terminally ill girl (The Kids Are All Right’s Mia Wasikowska) in director Gus Van Sant’s latest, which is just as relentlessly whimsical and calculated as it sounds. The big surprise, however, is just how dreadfully acted, written, and, yes, directed this clunker truly is.
Hopper plays Enoch, a graveyard-wandering orphan whose parents were killed in a car crash that also nearly took him — he died for a few minutes, after which he began seeing Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), a calm, approving specter as mundane and half-alert as Enoch. When the kid is nearly outed as a tourist at a stranger’s funeral, he’s saved by Wasikowska’s carefree Annabel Cotton, and a budding romance (and obvious Harold and Maude tip of the hat) is born.
Once the pair share their first kiss, the movie goes on autopilot. Throughout its third act, the movie seems to wonder why anyone in the audience is still around. It’s an attention deficit that has always stained the worst Van Sant outings — Last Days and the much stronger Gerry come to mind — but the director’s self-flagellating inclination to cast plucked-from-school non-actors tends to soften the impact. Here, Van Sant has one of today’s best young stars, Wasikowska, a pedigreed newcomer in Hopper, and a heralded Japanese veteran in Kase, and yet there isn’t an electrically charged frame in Restless. There’s not one scene that pops off the screen.
One of them comes close, however: Annabel takes Enoch to the cancer ward to show him around, and then ups the ante to a trip to the morgue. There, a teen girl’s lifeless body is wheeled in, at which point a nurse calls security on them. A potentially tense situation is diffused when the guard recognizes Annabel, who stands by passively wearing a blank, faintly friendly expression. At that exact moment, if any of the four breathing people in that room did or said the wrong thing, it would propel our characters into an eventful, ethically loaded scenario. But nothing happens; just a warning and a smile. Annabel is even granted a close-up view of the body.
Some might call this anti-action brave or poetic; I believe it’s a choice as wooden and castrated as everything else in the movie. In the end, its title might refer not to Annabel’s lust for life or even to the state of being its audience is driven to, but to the somersaults Maude director Hal Ashby is surely doing in his grave right now.
★ (out of 5 stars)
Dir. Gus Van Sant; writ. Jason Lew; feat. Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper, Ryo Kase (PG-13)
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