Are you a fan of Harold and Maude but wish that its geriatric sparkplug was instead a young Manic Pixie Dream Girl? (After all, old-people sex is gross.) What about if Harold also hung out with the ghost of a WWII kamikaze pilot for some reason? Helmed by Gus Van Sant from a script by a friend of Bryce Dallas Howard (whose father co-produced), Restless is the school nerd that puts the “kick me” sign on him/herself. One doesn’t so baldly appropriate and misrepresent a film favorite without expecting a wedgie, and it can only be presumed that its director took the job because it had been more than a decade (since Finding Forrester) since he’d made anything so obviously lame.
Dennis Hopper’s young son Henry listlessly plays Enoch, an overcast loner who crashes funerals. He never fakes his own death, but his misadventures do run him afoul of Annabel (Mia Wasikowska, It Girl of Alice in Wonderland and Jane Eyre), a pixie-do’d eccentric with a brain tumor. Despite having three months to live, she’s a bundle of happy, not so much sticking her finger up at mortality as delusionally ignoring it. They shuffle through several powerfully cute montages of them being cute together, all while her killjoy sister (Schuyler Fisk) glowers. Cat Stevens, alas, does not litter the soundtrack, but one of the frail Elliot Smith-esque songs that does blatantly references another Van Sant work, assuring its hero that “it’s not your fault.”
It’s easy—really, really easy—to hate on Restless; perhaps I shouldn’t mention that the finale blasts the same Nico song that graced the finale of The Royal Tenenbaums. Instead, let’s list the few things it does right. Ace cinematographer Harris Savides keeps the look overcast and the locations drab—not hard to pull off in Portland, but commendable anyway. It ably captures the feeling of two young outcasts in an uninspiring suburban locale creating a bubble. Most important, Van Sant spent the previous decade on a tear, testing the extremes of mainstream experimental cinema. The man made Gerry and Paranoid Park. Out of appreciation, let’s simply agree to never speak of this again.