Written by Amelia Abraham
23 Sunday 23rd October 2011

Harold and Maude fans look away now. Restless begins with funeral crashing protagonist Enoch (Henry Hopper) meeting the wonderfully 'quirky' Annabel (Mia Wasikowska). She is evidently quite enthralled by Enoch/Hopper’s boyish good looks and cute messy hair and so starts to trail him around the funeral circuit, much to his annoyance. However when he gets busted by the funeral organising powers that be for his perverse hobby, Annabel comes to the rescue and the odd pair become friends. In all of this time there is no Cat Stevens.

Enoch’s parents were killed in a car crash so obviously he has an imaginary friend who is a Japanese kamikaze pilot named Hiroshi. Hiroshi (Ryo Kase) is probably a projection of Enoch’s overwhelming sense of the inevitability of death. This sense is so strong that Enoch is entirely immune to the fear of death which invariably lies within the rest of us, thus making him the perfect company for Annabel after she reveals, on a quiet autumn morning at a football match, that she has less than three months to live. Enoch vows to help her “prepare”.

The couple dreamily float around graveyards and morgues displaying an increasing nonchalance towards Annabel’s forthcoming expiry but finding they have ever stronger feelings towards each other. In one notably endearing scene, when Enoch and Annabel rehearse their idealised vision of goodbye with cliché lines and cute costumes, the reality of the situation hits home and Restless begins to get slightly more interesting. Enoch’s love for Annabel ultimately prompts him to question his own desensitisation towards death and grapple with the necessity to accept hers. Ok, so it’s never going to end well but brace yourself, it gets pretty bloody depressing along the way.

Yes, this review is fast becoming as depressing as its subject matter, so perhaps at this juncture it might be worth listing Restless’ redeeming features (it won't take long).

  1. Hopper and Wasikowska are, albeit unconventionally, good looking and, well, we’re all shallow at heart.
  2. Nico –'These Days' plays three quarters of the way through the soundtrack.
  3. Harris Savides does the cinematography and there are some pleasing (particularly exterior) shots.
  4. The script bears a quirky humour that will make you chuckle at least once or twice.
  5. Umm? Some autumnal wardrobe inspiration for the generically “indie”?

Unfortunately these relatively superficial qualities will do little to quell your inevitable incredulousness at such bizarre narrative choices as, say, the decision to introduce Annabel’s alcoholic mother early on and never mention her again or to have Annabel recite information about a type of beetle which mates around dead bodies in a painfully overt analogy for her and Enoch’s meeting. Van Sant, you really must get someone to check your work before you hand it in.

Now, the more perceptive readers among you may have noticed that the words “cute” and “quirky” have both been used more than once thus far. This is no accident my friends. It is to hint at the serious likelihood that this film was produced under the instruction of a 'How to: Make a cute, quirky, American Indie film' PDF purchased off a shady site on the web. It just tries a bit too hard. It is admittedly harsh but probably fair to say that Van Sant is no longer down with the kids.

Overall the disappointment seems to stem from the fact that this is just not what we’d expect from a talented, veteran filmmaker like Van Sant. It doesn’t differ all that much thematically from the rest of his corpusbut something is up with the treatment; it’s not just that it is lighter than the likes of Drugstore Cowboy or Elephant, but more elementary and juvenile. Definitely suited to a younger audience then, for the rest of us, Restless is probably worth giving a miss.

Restless is out now

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