Maybe Gus Van Sant's latest artistic project is a little conventional even by his eccentric standards. Perhaps akin to the more mainstream and involving Finding Forrester when it comes to sentimentality without seeming movie-of-the-week.
Restless, starring Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper, could be a description by the acclaimed director of Elephant and Milk on the handling of material which doesn't penetrate societal youth with enough subtlety and style.
Still, Wasikowska (more expressive early this year in Jane Eyre) and Hopper (son of Dennis) are well-matched as fated adolescents who uniquely bond after accidentally meeting at a funeral.
Her lovely short-coifed terminally ill Annabel Cotton has a fond appreciation for life's naturalistic (Darwinian) pleasures, especially creatures water birds, and his Enoch Brae hasn't much desire for life (dropping out of school) after the sudden loss of his parents. Enoch's fantasy world includes his closeness with the spirit of a Kamikaze fighter pilot Hiroshi (Ryo Kase) when not often spending his days at funeral services.
Newbie scribe Jason Lew has coalesced a stage antecedent from vignettes into a rote but not very resonant romantic melodrama that may feel like a pretentious, episodic version of Love Story. It goes from the capriciousness and desires of nonconformists to finally deal with what external forces (or reality) has in store for them.
There is a crispness to the cinematography in Restless which, nevertheless, has an unpolished quality about it. Not much subtext is provided when it comes to the family live of Annabel and Enoch, as Jane Adams is underused as the latter's aunt. Van Sant and Lew obvious key into what their relationship means as a source of rebirth and affirmation, even as Annabel's time is dwindling.
Wasikowska displays, at times, some of the attributes that have made her an actress to watch, while a rakish, cynical Hopper looks like he could have some of the charm of his late, old man. They just aren't inspired beyond the banal and pedestrian to help make their emotional baggage meaningful.
Through painful and cuter interludes, the result isn't as evocative nor dramatic and fully realized as intended. Like the running time, the narrative and visual limitations keep an incurably romantic and oddly compelling, if bold "rescue mission" from a deeper, tantalizing meditative impact.