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Movie review: 'Restless'

Director Gus Van Sant's attempt to bring an indie spirit to screenwriter Jason Lew's pedestrian romantic drama ultimately runs aground on the film's overly familiar trappings.

September 16, 2011|By Sheri Linden, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Under director Gus Van Sant (right), the film -- one part "Harold and Maude," two parts "Love Story" and two parts Oregon teen ennui -- errs on the side of formula even as it carries the sheen and delicacy of something handmade. Also pictured are Henry Hopper and Mia Wasikowska.
Under director Gus Van Sant (right), the film -- one part "Harold and… (Scott Green / Sony Pictures…)

Gus Van Sant is a filmmaker who moves with notable ease between uncompromising independent work and crowd-pleasers, occasionally bringing elements of the two together, as he did with the high-profile "Milk." His new romantic drama, "Restless," occupies a less successful middle ground.

One part "Harold and Maude," two parts "Love Story" and two parts Oregon teen ennui, the film errs on the side of formula even as it carries the sheen and delicacy of something handmade.

With the Portland-set feature, Van Sant delves yet again into the ache and beauty of youth, embodied by the always impressive Mia Wasikowska ("The Kids Are All Right," "Jane Eyre") and Henry Hopper, a newcomer with a familiar face. They play characters straddling their own dualities — life and death, present and past, alienation and connection.

Cast in the soft autumnal light of Harris Savides' cinematography, the film is lovely to look at but bereft of the bracing angst of the director's "Paranoid Park" and "Last Days."

Not least among the aesthetic objects the film contemplates is Hopper's face. There's an undeniable fascination in the visual rhymes between the young actor and his late father, Dennis Hopper, who made his big-screen debut at the same twentyish age in the far more restless adolescent saga "Rebel Without a Cause."

Hopper plays recently orphaned Enoch, a dandy and a brooder who attends strangers' memorial services — but with none of the joie de vivre Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort brought to the funeral circuit. When he's not faux-mourning, he hangs with the ghost of a Japanese soldier. Ryo Kase is affecting in the role, the movie's specious allusions to nuclear devastation notwithstanding.

After Enoch meets soul mate Annabel (Wasikowska) — they both favor costumey vintage get-ups and are digitally disinclined — his languorous, flirtatious beef with death takes on greater immediacy: She's entering the final stages of terminal cancer.

The insistently quirky details don't disguise the fact that the drama grows ever more predictable and precious, complete with falling-in-love montage. Screenwriter Jason Lew's character insights take the form of the obvious.

"I don't have any bright colors," Enoch tells Annabel when they first meet, and she steps into the void with her love of life, one of the less inspired members of a long movie lineage: characters dying oh so bravely, oh so beautifully.

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