By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
Gus Van Sant is one of my few favorite contemporary filmmakers. And yet, of that short list (Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, Jason Reitman, Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher, Martin Scorcese, Pedro Almodovar… okay maybe not so short) he is probably the most variable. For every film that simply stuns you, like Drugstore Cowboy or the unparalleled Elephant, he tosses off a Finding Forrester or Psycho remake. Even the film he finally got an Oscar nomination for, Milk, seemed awful safe compared to his usual style. Coming off of that, what camp is his latest going to fall into?
Okay, Finding Forrester does have its charms
Restless follows an orphan (Henry Hopper, son of Dennis) and high school dropout that’s taken to attending strangers’ funerals to satiate his morbidity and otherwise spends his time talking to and playing Battleship with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot. While at one of these funerals, he meets a young girl who has a brain tumor and romance is in the air!
So, you can’t say that this isn’t a unique concept. Aggressively unique perhaps, but at least it’s not the remake of a 80s TV show or the fifteenth sequel to the same. This movie is also almost admirable on how much it doesn’t give a shit about being overly morbid. It ups the ante on movie morbidity more than any other film I can think of.
So, if this is you, bon apetit!
Even with that kind of backhanded compliment, the film has moments of undeniable sweetness and even poetry, especially towards the end. It is this natural and unusually subdued (for the film) ending that ultimately saves it. On the performance front, Mia Wasikowska is as charming as always.
She’s also operating at a completely different level than Henry Hopper. If he was giving a silent performance, he might even be worth complementing, but his voice and delivery seem to hit all the wrong emotional cues. The result is a lot more whining than acting.
You only really see Gus Van Sant’s influence in the soundtrack, as the shooting is pretty conventional for him. The songs are the lighter indie tracks of the sort that he used to great effect in Paranoid Park, but they fit almost too perfectly here. When you overlay them over the already twee-as-hell script the result is too goddamn precious for words.
That wasn’t really a compliment
The tone of this film is just so damn strange. It traffics heavily in death, but is in equal turns nonchalant and romantic about it. If you’ve ever lost someone, and who hasn’t, you won’t recognize any of this behavior as remotely human. Yes, in the third act the cracks start to show in the façade, but they’re never quite convincing enough to bring down the bizarre structure the film builds in the first two.
I’m not sure what sort of mood you have to be in to enjoy this properly. It’s flippantly morbid and saccharine sweet, but there are just enough moments of beauty to make it worth a watch, at least for Gus Van Sant completists anyway.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time ‘cancer’, ‘cancer kids’, or ‘kids with cancer’ are mentioned
Take a Drink: every time someone talks about death nonchalantly
Drink a Shot: for ghost sass, and especially ghost punch!