Gus Van Sant’s Teen Romance Restless: Bad Will or Just Bad Taste?


Too morbid to be a crowd-pleaser à la Good Will Hunting but nowhere near as confrontationally inscrutable as Gerry, Gus Van Sant’s latest—a middle-class hetero teen romance, no less—walks the line between mainstream sentimentality and dark art-house humor so effectively that it seems noncommittal. The movie takes place in Portland, Oregon, over three months as Enoch (Henry Hopper, Dennis’s boy), an orphaned high school dropout who attends strangers’ funerals for kicks, meets and falls in love with pretty, perky Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), who’s dying of cancer. The ghost of a kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase) plays guardian angel to the pair, generally getting the best lines (of handshaking versus bowing, he says, “White people—you have to grab everything”) and adding a magic realism component that’s as iffy as it is charming. Equivocation is the whole game here, though: Slight and frequently cloying, Restless is also achingly tender and unflinching on the subject of death. (Dying, on the other hand, gets a whitewash.) But its chief feature is listlessness, and the way Van Sant lapses into hokey montages of the happy couple’s hijinks and fey, whispery pop tunes in lieu of real dramatic tension finally smacks of mockery.