In Gus Van Sant’s 1991 movie My Own Private Idaho, River Phoenix’s narcoleptic rentboy had a tendency to just drop off throughout the film. 20 years later, audiences may find themselves doing the same during his latest film, Restless. Selling your ass is however optional.
Enoch (Henry Hopper) is a bit of a shoegazing mope. And not in a fun, self-harming Goth kinda way. Obsessed with death, he spends his days gatecrashing funerals and throwing stones at trains with his only friend Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), the ghost of a World War 2 Japanese kamikaze pilot who may be imaginary.
At one funeral he meets his soul mate, Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), a cute, quirky girl who’s dying of one of those tragic but photogenic brain tumours where the cute, quirky girl never looks ill, loses her hair, becomes incontinent or pukes on herself at any point. The tumour may be affecting her decision-making however as, for no discernible reason, she throws herself into a bittersweet, doomed romance with Enoch, reawakening in him a passion for life.
And that’s pretty much it. Enoch and Annabel are impeccably geek-chic styled kids who are too cool for school. Literally. Neither teenager bothers with school. They spend their days hanging out in cemeteries, drawing chalk outlines around themselves, reading about Darwin and learning to play the xylophone until Annabel’s inevitable end.
Restless isn’t a bad film, it’s just whimsy by numbers. Soporific and self-consciously, teeth-rottingly, cutesy, the film borrows plot elements from Harold And Maude (death obsessives in love), Love Story, Autumn In New York and Sweet November (all feature annoyingly quirky girls snuffing it tragically, photogenically young). The protagonists are quirky, laid-back, hipsters who look like they’ve wandered in from the sidelines of a Michael Cera film and spout the kind of stilted, self-conscious, wistful dialogue you’d expect from a Zach Braff or Wes Anderson movie.
Enoch and Annabel aren’t disagreeable company for 91 minutes (ok, he’s a bit of whiney hemorrhoid) but you’ve just seen them too many times before. Enoch is emotionally constipated, Annabel is a prime example of what American film critic Nathan Rabin termed the manic pixie dream girl, “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” She’s not a character; she exists simply to kick-start Enoch’s emotional growth AND THEN DIE!
The spitting image of his father Dennis, it’s unfortunate that, at least on the evidence here, Henry Hopper hasn’t inherited any of his mercurial talent. Despite playing Battleship with a dead Japanese suicide bomber (the films best joke), Enoch’s a mopey, whiny, adolescent and that’s exactly how Hopper plays him. You spend much of the film wondering just what Annabel sees in him and the rest wondering when he’ll grow a pair. One of the recent crop of phenomenally talented and beautiful young actresses (Abbie Cornish, Emily Hampshire) that seem to be being bred in a greenhouse somewhere in Australia, Mia Wasikowska is the best thing in the film, breathing life into the ragbag of quirks and clichés she has instead of a character. She deserves better than this dull, formulaic, knowing nonsense.
Sentimental, self-consciously hip and self-indulgent, two-thirds of the way in Restless will make you wish the quirky, pretty, terminally-ill, dream girl would just hurry up and die.
Gus Van Sant
Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase, Schuyler Fisk