From personal experience, Gus Van Sant is a director split between the experimental/art-house and the powerful human drama. Good Will Hunting and Milk both cemented his name into mainstream cinema with a barrage of awards and nominations. However the likes of Gerry and his shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho still symbolise his unwillingness to arise from ‘film school’ averageness. Restless is Van Sant’s continuation of his recent conventional cinema, yet is one with a low-budget and small-scale production. Unfortunately it’s another one to add to the ‘substandard’ pile, and all in all it becomes stale and overly protracted.
The story follows Enoch, a school drop-out and funeral crasher who is tormented by a troubled past. He meets Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), a plucky cancer patient and ‘naturalist’, and the two formulaically build a strong relationship. Meanwhile, Enoch (Henry Hopper) is haunted by the ghost of a Japanese Kamikaze pilot. Restless strives to entwine a youthful romantic tale with the tragic complexities of ‘life’s end’, but fails to exhibit either. Van Sant’s attempt to commentate on the philosophy and psychology surrounding ‘death’ is laughable and far too forced. Every sentence between Annabel and Enoch relates to her inevitable end, resulting in a repetitive and stagnant structure to the narrative. One scene in particular sees the couple disrespectfully gallivanting in the hospital’s morgue, it’s not the most subtle theming. This means that there’s no sympathy towards the characters, and a lack of deep emotion and passion in a film surrounding such intense themes. However another major problem is the numerous sub-plots that remain undeveloped after the finale. The biggest coming in the form of Hiroshi. Enoch’s ‘imaginary Japanese friend’ or ‘ghost’ (?) adds another theoretical dimension to the film’s motif, with the concept of honour and pride. Yet this empathetic element is never explored even when Jason Lew’s script attempts to do so, meaning his character is inconsequential.
For any romantic drama, strong and charming personalities are essential to engage and connect with the audience. Restless fails to do so, creating two shallow and charmless leads. Mia Wasikowska’s short-hair and pallid complexion are signs of the dreaded ‘film cancer’, which never becomes truly apparent until the end. Her acting is too whimsical and artificial to sympathetically envision a realistic individual suffering from brain cancer. Meanwhile, Henry Hopper, son of the late Dennis, is awkward and irritating to watch. His inexperience clearly shows in his wooden delivery and tame screen presence, culminating in a character that whimpers and mutters through the entire film. To be brutally honest, Hiroshi Takahashi (Ryo Kase) is the most interesting character even when his purpose or context isn’t explained. He brings a touch of charm and compassion into a film that’s vacant of spirit and intrigue.
Even the cinematography is dull and uninspired. Harris Savides’ overuse of pale lighting and autumnal colours is all too stereotypical of modern, ‘indie’ romantic dramas. The sluggish pacing and minimalist styling never encroaches Gerry levels, but still drags out Lew’s weak script. The film even has the typical mid-film montage of ice skating, walking in the park and hugging, which becomes more comical than emotive. Meanwhile the soundtrack consists of various acoustic folk numbers from artists like Sufjan Stevens, whilst Danny Elfman’s score feels more like that of an American TV series rather than a feature film.
Overall Restless is a boring, drawn-out and frustrating affair. If Gus Van Sant’s intention was to create an emotional romantic drama that delves into the powerful themes of death and bereavement, then Restless isn’t that. Devoid of engrossing characters, subtle theming and originality, Van Sant’s film is an forgettable endeavour that becomes far more tedious than absorbing.