“One—with a big fat head”
I looked forward to this film with anticipation after watching its sweetly touching trailer of quirky kids, death, and the journey taken to find light amidst darkness. Gus Van Sant appeared the perfect match as a visionary able to do so much with sparse material; to allow quiet moments of introspection room to breathe and more resonate sentimentality an authenticity to rise above its inherent triteness. He found a way to make Good Will Hunting‘s overly clichéd script great and Elephant‘s silent storm invigorating, but he couldn’t unfortunately save Jason Lew‘s screenwriting debut from becoming anything more than a slight work containing too few glimpses of brilliance. Restless may be formed by moments assured to stick with you yet the story surrounding them merely dissolves with little more than a chalked outline unable to hold the form it tries desperately to keep enclosed.
A tall order for anyone to fulfill, the plotline’s crux depending on the union between a troubled boy and a dying girl in the three months she has left leaves no room for error. The steadiest course available carries the threat of unraveling while the slightest bump will drown all in the contrivances its filmmakers hope we’ll forgive. It’s the introduction of Enoch Brae’s (Henry Hopper) eccentric habit of crashing funerals as soon as The Beatles‘ “Two of Us” and the opening credits finish that begins our skepticism. An unquestioning acceptance of his behavior by Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska) follows closely behind to help shape the almost fairy tale tone at play. There to say goodbye to a friend, she has no problem with a stowaway many—including the funeral director—would believe is desecrating the dead. I guess her impending mortality puts this ambivalence into focus.
It’s still odd watching incongruities like Annie condoning the funeral hopping of memorials she has an invested interest in against a passionate declaration that ‘Cancer Kids’ is not the same as ‘kids with cancer’. But this is a teenage girl about to give her body to science; to her the chance to save another’s soul is more important than what is done to her vacated vessel. So I guess it isn’t surprising she can be so flippant with those gone to heaven while protecting the ones still fighting from callous remarks. And it’s not like Enoch jests because he is insensitive anyway. On the contrary, he does so because he knows more about the process of death than many his age. Alone in every meaning of the word, his traveling to wakes are never meant with disrespect. They are simply his way to see family members rejoice in memories of those lost—an action he was robbed of due to his own near fatal accident.
It’s an unlikely pair then that a girl who should be without hope connects with a boy seemingly unable to love. In this regard Lew has crafted two very intricate characters with emotional depth and haunting pasts. Wasikowska deftly traverses her cancer-stricken role in a bittersweet way, full to the brim with optimism and fervor for living instead of dying. She tries so hard to forget what awaits her in lieu of the happiness she has never known. It isn’t a decision made blindly as Annie has been preparing for this her whole life. The distraction of love is not only welcome but also a blessing she never thought possible. Death would be so much easier if she had ignored this young man and went home to wait for her next hospital treatment instead of following him in black lace to the next day’s service. Only love could make what she was going through worse, but the fact it was love also made it the greatest gift she could have ever received.
And on the flip side comes Enoch’s assumed lack of compassion and feeling. Hopper has his moments of rage to conjure imagery of his late father Dennis‘s tenacity, but the softer moments are what Restless holds close. As the film progresses we watch his stoic façade melt once he realizes what it means to open up to another living creature. Yes, he has his friend Hiroshi (Ryo Kase)—the ghost of a deceased kamikaze who helped bring him back to life—but manifestation or not, a nightly game of Battleship pales in comparison to the warm embrace of a reciprocating love. He is angry and lost, his issues and regrets forever building a wall to separate himself from the world he no longer cares to exist in. Death is something he knows all too well so it isn’t a shock to watch him take the news of Annie’s future in stride. What surprises him is the fact he is able to let her into his life and once again feel humanity, bliss, and the want for more.
Restless is a message of rebirth from the ashes of crushing depression through the simplicity of a pretty smile across the room. Issues of family, responsibility, and forgiveness come into play with Annie’s sister (Schuyler Fisk) and Enoch’s aunt (Jane Adams), but they are never shown with more than a passing glance. Instead it’s the relationship of Hopper and Wasikowska’s wandering souls and how they change each other that lingers upon the film’s completion. I loved Hiroshi’s wisdom, the blurring of fantasy and reality his actions brings, and the beautiful note read at the end—for being an overt gimmick he does his job wonderfully. But no matter how much I enjoyed the journey of limitless love trapped within fate’s fickle grasp, the script’s want to be cute and quirky takes away some of the relevance. There’s definitely a fantastic character study trapped inside its excess and I only wish Van Sant were able to strip it clean so that essence could have been put on display.
[1 & 2] Left to Right: Mia Wasikowska as Annabel and Henry Hopper as Enoch
Photo by Scott Green, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
 Ryō Kase as Hiroshi Photo by Scott Green, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics