It may seem cheap and unfair to call a movie about the doomed romance between a death-obsessed teenager and a gamine with a brain tumor "lifeless," but that's why watching Restless feels like spending 95 minutes in the bad-movie morgue. Nobody wins this loser-leave-town match that pits occasionally interesting director Gus Van Sant (Milk) against a bunch of disease-of-the-week movie clichés.
The film's commitment to esoteric, microcultural pseudo-realism is evident from its opening scenes, in which Enoch (bored, grumpy Henry Hopper) finishes drawing a chalk outline of himself on the streets before he crashes a funeral. While secretly soaking in others' grief, Enoch meets Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), a chipper, terminally ill androgyne who takes an immediate (and unlikely) interest in him. Courtship and heartbreak and all that jazz ensue, but the film's tenderness and charm curdle quickly into the worst kind of self-consciously left-field affectation: This is a movie where considerable screen time is devoted to Enoch's interactions with an imaginary WWII kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase).
As Annabel, Wasikowska's performance is plucky and inspirational because that's all she's permitted to be. As Enoch, Hopper is unwatchable. But in a minor role, Annabel's older sister Lizzie (Schuyler Fisk) tries to show moviegoers the way that normal people deal with the impending death of a loved one.
Van Sant and cinematographer Harris Savides set the predictable action in the perpetual twilight of the eminently photogenic Pacific Northwest. But Savides' photography can be a dicey proposition. Savides has never met a surface edge he couldn't bevel or a light source he couldn't soften. In Reckless, though, the look of his images is as tan and tacky as a farmer's Sunday suit.
Van Sant, who has shown such a sensitive touch with kids in previous movies, has made a film with some colossally self-involved teenage leads. Like a lot of bad movies, though, Restless has the curious effect of intensifying one's sense of despair. It's so dull and neutered that it will make you cherish the remaining time on earth when you're not watching it.
Opening Friday, October 7th