Director: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper, Ryo Kase, Schuyler Fisk, Lusia Strus, Jane Adams, Chin Han
RunTime: 1 hr 31 mins
Released By: Sony Pictures Releasing International
Rating: PG13 (Disturbing Theme)
Official Website: http://www.facebook.com/RestlessMovie
Opening Day: 1 December 2011
Synopsis: The story of a terminally ill teenage girl who falls for a boy who likes to attend funerals and their encounters with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII.
Life may dish out a series of lemons, but it's up to our individual responses to make the best of the situation. We cannot control what Fate has in store for us, but we sure do have total control over our emotions in dealing with the unfair hand dealt. Based upon the play by Jason Lew and adapted for the screen under the vision of director Gus Van Sant, Restless opened the Un Certain Regard sidebar at this year's Cannes Film Festival, with a cast and crew of pedigree but unfortunately didn't have much going for it besides its promising synopsis.
Produced by Ron Howard and his daughter Bryce Dallas Howard, together with Brian Grazer, the film is short of narrative substance, about budding love between two youngsters who know their love couldn't escape Death at the doorstep, with the story being extrapolated into feature length runtime just because it can. I had thought that the beginning was almost similar to Fight Club with the narrator visiting therapy groups since he suffers from insomnia, meeting Marla his main squeeze in that story and we'd know how dark and twisted that went. Here, we have Enoch (Henry Hopper), a boy who spends most of his waking hours in funeral parlours gatecrashing families of mourners, and meets up with Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), with whom he soon hooks up with, but having things develop in a more whimsical fashion.
Personally, I had always felt romantic tales fell into two broad categories, and that's either Romantic Comedy, or Romantic Tragedy. The synopsis primes the film under the latter category, with Annabel being diagnosed with brain cancer from the outset of the film, thus forcing a deadline (pun not intended) and expiry date upon which their love will all but terminate physically. But it had what most films don't really focus too much on, and that's the relentless focus on all things sweet during a budding relationship, from stolen kisses to glances and the genuine innocence that accompanies new love.
Gus Van Sant managed to construct some really saccharine sweet moments of romance, from the spending of quality alone with each other planning for the morbid inevitable, to doing activities in public together such as going trick and treating. Like a cliche romantic film, you can go as far as stating the couple's togetherness sparked more of all things good in which the characters experience in their lives, where the strengths of their union far outweigh the strengths of when they were left alone. Of course there is skepticism in their relationship especially from family members on the outside looking in, but these alone do not detract the lovebirds from their spending time together.
Mia Wasikowska steals the show as the believably chirpy and effervescent lass with such a positive outlook despite her condition, and performed admirably in giving her character the deep level strength necessary to take control of her life, determined to call the shots in how she wanted it to end. Henry Hopper, son of the late Dennis Hopper to whom this film got dedicated to, on the other hand had his inexperience exposed, tackling the complex Enoch who had to grapple and come to terms with his parents demise, and trying to keep his emotional baggage out of his budding relationship with Annabel. In what would be an attempt to further enrich the character, we have him able to communicate with Hiroshi Takahashi, a Japanese ghost from WWII (Ryo Kase), but it came off as either very schizophrenic, or had possessed the power of Cole Sear from The Sixth Sense, which unfortunately was a very forced quirk that was present just so that Enoch had someone to talk to.
While there were little subplots and elements put in to expand the narrative, such as Enoch's issues with his deceased parents, and themes about life, death and the reminder about how spending quality time with loved ones always matter more than the quantity of time spent, where in a romance it's down to having loved rather than not having loved before, Restless turned out to be a rather tired and dragged out affair, boosted only by Mia Wasikowska's star presence and the carefully crafted sweet little moments that define the romantic ideals of a young couple enjoying the presence of each other.
(Restlessness in pitch perfect terms)
Review by Stefan Shih