Wednesday, 26 October 2011


2011. Dir: Gus van Sant. Starring: Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase, Schuyler Fisk and Jane Adams. ●○○○○

I don't always agree with the broad consensus of critical opinion, sometimes movies receive unanimous praise which I refuse to buy into, other times I find myself enjoying sub-par thrillers that are collectively pummelled elsewhere. Indeed critical thinking regarding the filmography of Gus van Sant is especially controversial, whilst accepting their flaws I have positive views of his Hitchcockian exercise Psycho and the head-scratching Gerry. However Restless proves the critics right, a unedifying spectacle of cliche, a clumsy parable of death and forgiveness that deserves it's place as one of the most reviled movies of 2011.

Like van Sant's greatest works, the sublime Paranoid Park and the mystery of Elephant he returns to his preoccupations of youth culture and the violent ascent into adulthood. Where his previous teenage protagonists have fully encapsulated the self-imposed ennui and alienation of adolescence here they seem forced and pointed, the over-powering script full of unnecessary metaphor prevents the non-verbal communications and semi-improvised grunts that characterise his better works.

Centred around the budding romance between depressive loner Henry Hopper and quirky "Cancer Kid" Mia Wasikowska who meet at the funeral for a friend of Mia that Hopper gatecrashes in an ill-fitting, steam-punk inspired suit. In the way of these things she follows him relentlessly, miraculously bumping into him at another funeral they both have no business being at, and after a couple of attempts at appearing aloof he finally goes up to her in a graveyard and asks to see her sketches of water birds. All the while he's watched over by his faithful ghost friend (Ryo Kase) a kamikaze pilot who never said goodbye. And did I mention his parents were both killed in a car crash?

On the off-chance you hadn't noticed the continuous references to passing on this movie is all about death, and before you can say "Gosh, Mia, you're hair looks lovely" she's given just three months left to live (I have to say in the cinema it felt a lot longer than that), and the two of them are living those last moments together to the fullest.

Aiming for an age-appropriate Harold and Maude, or maybe a modern Love Story the lack of dimension to the characters (Mia's job is to die, Hopper's to mourn) prevents their predicament resonating, indeed the movies relentless pushing of the death theme negates the stakes of the pair. I'll say that again Mia is dying of cancer and the audience feel there are no stakes!

It's difficult to know where to lay the blame for this turgid mess, and I feel so strongly about it I want to blame someone, but I suspect it belongs to first time writer Jason Lew, whose screenplay stifles the performances and gives van Sant nothing to say. I understand that he originally wrote this as a play, and I suspect it may have worked in an intimate studio setting, but as cinema it's an unmitigated disaster.

Avoid at all costs.

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