A too-perfect take on grief
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Sep 23, 2011
It's taken a while, but someone has finally made a film that qualifies as the "Love Story" of its generation.
It's called "50/50," and it opens in theaters next week.
"Restless," which opens today, is not this era's "Love Story," despite its most ingratiating efforts to find meaning, laughter and romance by way of a too-young protagonist battling cancer.
If "Restless" ultimately succumbs to acute cuteness, director Gus Van Sant has done a good job finding the 21st-century equivalent to Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw, who became stars and style icons in the first movie. Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper - making an assured debut - manage to deliver distinctive performances here as wise, attractively troubled teenagers given to morbid humor, quirky sensibilities and a penchant for taking a tasteless joke too far.
So it's fitting that Annabel (Wasikowska) and Enoch (Hopper) would meet at a funeral: Enoch likes to hover around the edges of strangers' memorial services, one of which Annabel is attending when they begin to exchange grimly funny banter. They embark on a friendship and fledgling romance that's alternately touching and insufferably glib, their offhand, darkly witty asides as carefully crafted as Annabel's gamine haircut and impeccable flea-market chic.
Like all respectable romantic tragedies, "Restless" gives its characters heavy emotional issues: Both Annabel and Enoch are grappling with unimaginable loss, with Enoch channeling his grief through an imaginary friend (a World War II kamikaze pilot played by Ryo Kase with deadpan seriousness in the film's magical realist sequences) and Annabel dealing with hers through heroic gallows humor and an intellectual obsession with Charles Darwin.
First-time screenwriter Jason Lew infuses "Restless" with such uncanny intelligence and precocious self-awareness that it often plays like a too-perfect parable of aestheticized suffering. Rather than scruff the story up with grittier touches, Van Sant - here in his mainstream, "Good Will Hunting" mode - keeps it cheerfully ironic and visually gleaming (the story's hipster appeal is amplified by the beguilingly rainy backdrop of Portland, Ore.).
"Restless" is saved from movie-of-the-week soppiness by its plucky lead actors; by now we assume (correctly) that Wasikowska will infuse her character with lucid, clear-eyed warmth. The revelation here is Hopper - son of Dennis - who admittedly bears a haunting resemblance to his late father but plays Enoch with an understatement and vulnerability all his own. (And Schuyler Fisk deserves a shout-out for her tough, refreshingly un-cute portrayal of Annabel's protective big sister.)
It would be interesting to see what these gifted actors would bring to fully realized characters rather than idealized paragons of twee self-consciousness. As it is, they manage to bring winsome charm to "Restless," which suffers from too much of it already.
Contains thematic elements and brief sensuality.