Restless opens Friday (see times below)
Restless is a poignant, corny and touching teen romance that follows the three-month relationship of Enoch (Henry Hopper) and Annabel (Mia Wasikowska). Enoch is a habitual funeral crasher, which has him getting accused of lacking respect for the dead. Director Gus Van Sant, who remade Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1998, ought to know a thing or two about this.
A morbidly amusing reimagining of Wedding Crashers that replaces best-man toasts with grieving reminiscences is enticing. (I’m thinking Wasikowska in the Owen Wilson role and Hopper in Vince Vaughn’s, but only because that approximates corresponding hair colors.) Restless doesn’t recall that film (nor Harold and Maude, which it easily could). Instead, this is a love story that doesn’t put too much in its lovers’ way, even though it does put a time limit on it (minor spoiler follows, but it comes out pretty early in the movie): Annabel has brain cancer, and about 90 days to live. In that time period, Van Sant and his ace cinematographer Harris Savides hop around Portland and its rainy sidewalks, making Restless another worthy entry in the director’s series of films shot in Rip City. Van Sant inhabits Portland in a way that reminds us how few films outside of New York are shot with such strong sense of place.
One of the most touching aspects of Restless is the near total openness that Enoch and Annabel have with each other. Enoch accepts Anna’s ticking clock casually: When she drops the news in passing, he’s smart enough to take up her tone and make a little joke about it. Unlike Annabel’s sister, Enoch doesn’t try to make Annabel’s illness about him. Similarly, Annabel doesn’t have any hang-ups about Enoch’s search for a good open casket service. The performances are stiff but believable (they’re playing outcast teens; they shouldn’t be too loose), and these two really seem to understand each other. Restless makes some superficial, obligatory gestures toward “healing” Enoch of his rude obsession with morbidity and creating third-act tension between him and Annabel, but to its credit stays mostly true to its own tone of acceptance.
The kind of acceptance that Restless deals with is more than romantic, of course, and its cool approach to death is muddled but sometimes refreshing. Enochwho has had a near-death experiencestates with confidence that there’s nothing beyond the mortal coil, an assertion complicated by the fact that his best pal Hiroshi is the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot (really). Restless is at its best when it focuses on the small intimacies between Enoch and Annabel: The way Van Sant integrates these happy moments into a film so muted in tone and chilly with Northwest drizzle gives Restless the unspoken theme that being hung up on death, even though there is nothing to look forward to afterward, is pointless because we can’t do anything about it. Imparting this lesson to such young characters (and, perhaps, audience members) is lovely. But every time that Japanese fighter pilot shows up (which is plenty), Restless loses perspective and becomes something far less sure of itself. Hiroshi’s presence pushes things in a respectful direction that the movie could do without. As a director, Van Sant is best when he’s being irreverentthat Psycho remake is one of his best films.