Restless: Gus Van Sant Draws a Blank

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The other night we had the pleasure of meeting Mia Wasikowska, the wan, wonderful young actress who has played the title roles in Alice in Wonderland and Jane Eyre and was in Cannes to promote her new film, Restless. Tall and polite, and flashing deep dimples she almost never reveals on screen, the 21-year-old Australian rhapsodized about working with director Gus Van Sant and her costar, Dennis Hopper’s 20-year-old son Henry.

Restless, like We Need to Talk About Kevin, is a tale of a troubled teen (Hopper’s Enoch) who tests the exasperation level of the world around him. Unlike the Lynne Ramsay film, which leaves shivers in the viewer for days afterward, Restless recedes from the mind even as it is being watched. This is a wafer-thin tale of doomed love, between Annabel (Wasikowska), whose brain cancer leaves her just a few months to live, and Enoch, who developed the hobby of crashing funerals after his parents died in a car accident, and whose only confidant is a Japanese ghost (Ryo Kase). The whimsy falls like sap.

For a quarter-century, Van Sant has drawn sympathetic portraits of young outsiders, but in directing Jason Lew’s soggy script he has drawn a blank. These are kids the world just doesn’t understand, yet they have no edges, few shades and scant access to even a sympathetic heart. Van Sant has so little confidence in the material that he wallpapers virtually every scene in pop music: Beatles songs, French ballads, soulful rock and Danny Elfman’s uncharacteristically sentimental score.

What little emotive resonance Restless summons comes from the charm surgically implanted in it by the two attractive stars. Hopper — who looks like his dad as a teenager, crossed with a hint of James Dean — should some day be worth watching. Wasikowska always is, even here, where she gives her all to turning a romance-novel cliché into a good and trusting soul. She will be back in Cannes with better films.

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