“Gus Van Sant Sells Out To Hallmark”
September 9th, 2011
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Directed By: Gus Van Sant
Written By: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper, Jane Adams, Schuyler Fisk, Lusia Fisk, Ryo Kase
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 9/6/11
Opens: September 16, 2011
Gus Van Sant is perhaps best known for his "Good Will Hunting," an uplifting tale of a genius who was abused as a boy, cannot think of leaving his South Boston childhood roots, and whose life is turned around by a therapist. Coming to terms with the blows that life often leaves is a theme that's taken up again by the writer-director, but "Restless," though warmly applauded at Cannes as "the kind of movie they don't make any more," is too close to a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV episode to warrant universal praise. A PG-13 film that refuses to show much in the way of the agonies faced by someone with terminal brain cancer and with only three months to live is up to the standards of a staid TV program, but on the big screen, featuring a pair of teens with just a few melodramatic moments, is hardly awe-inspiring. This is not up to the standards of one of our country's most prominent directors, and could have audiences wish for Van Sant to return to his less accessible self as shown in such works as "Gerry"-about two twenty-something guys hiking in a desert but forgetting to carry food and water.
Ironically there is little that is "restless" about the two principal performers, teens Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper) and Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska). Their relationship is un-teen-like, peppered with a few chaste kisses and a sex scene that could have been filmed during the 1940s. There is nothing here that is unpredictable or which makes use of the possibilities inherent in cinema as opposed to the stage.
Mia Wasikowska, who is made up so pixie-like that she could play in a bio-pic of Mia Farrow, is an actress in demand these days, having appeared as the title figures in "Alice in Wonderland" and "Jane Eyre." In "Restless," she shows no interest in I-pods or I-pads or smart phones or computers but rather is so in sync with the natural world that her principal hobby is sketching pictures of water birds. For his part Enoch (Henry Hopper) has left school following the tragic deaths of his parents, and has taken refuge from life. His hobby is crashing memorial services of strangers to such an extent that after his fourth such visit he is told to leave by the authorities. Enoch has only one friend, Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), the ghost of a Kamikaze pilot who died for his country during the early 1940s, while Annabel's hero is no less than Charles Darwin. Can you think of a high-school student today who would entertain such idols?
Though Enoch feels threatened when he sees Annabel's interest as stalking, he agrees to become her boyfriend to ease her mind when he hears that she is under a death sentence. Soon, thoughts of rescuing the damsel grow into puppy love, making the project more like "Love Story" than "Good Will Hunting." "Restless" could probably find a better home on the off-Broadway stage or in regional theater, where its dramatic potential-with more effort put into the script for subtleties-would make the story welcome.
Rated PG-13. 93 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online