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RESTLESS Movie Review (2 out of 5 stars)

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Review of Restless, starring Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper. Restless is prettily shot, sweetly performed.

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restless - 2 star rating

restless - mia wasikowska and henry hooper imageThis prettily shot, sweetly performed film about dying young suffers due to a simplistic script, despite the proven talents of two-time Oscar-nominated director (for MILK and GOOD WILL HUNTING) Gus Van Sant.

Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper) is a handsome young teen heartthrob type with tussled blonde locks and self-consciously hip, vintage outfits (i.e. poseur). While brooding in a double-breasted black suit, outsized collar and pocket watch at a funeral, he's busted by unfazed hipster mourner Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska) for crashing the proceedings. She too is a pretty, skinny blonde delighting in duds from decades past, her pixie do reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn or another Mia, in ROSEMARY'S BABY. And so they begin crashing funerals together, which we're meant to find cute but to me felt insensitive and mocking of people's pain; that they're young and foolish and it's their own coping mechanism for personal tragedies is no excuse.

These two eccentric model-types engage in a sweet, first-time romance over the course of the coming autumn, each finding solace in the other's similarly close acquaintanceship with mortality, between his coma following a car accident that killed his parents and Annabel's mere three months left to live due to a brain tumor.

Now just in her early twenties, Wasikowska is already a pro at this acting thing and indeed captivating here: the tales she spins on the wildlife she likes to draw in a small notebook are wonderfully engrossing, such as that of a certain type of songbird that interprets each sunset as its death and so, shocked to be alive to greet each sunrise, warbles joyfully.

Annabel's playfulness and wide-eyed enthusiasm feel real, and her big, bright smile will remind you of those proverbial free spirits you may have encountered (or been yourself) in your younger days.

Enoch on the other hand is angry and rebellious, but softens the more he absorbs his girl's airy presence, and unlike her well-meaning sister (Schuyler Fisk), he doesn't baby her. So they fall head over heels with one another despite -- or perhaps because of, take your pick -- the trauma they've experienced. While Hopper doesn't necessarily hit it out of the park like his costar, he holds his own -- an impressive feat considering it's his first professional acting job, let alone as a lead. (Though I personally find my brooding, quirky male protagonists a bit less believable when they resemble runway models.)

I'll give at least partial credit to the director's usual sure eye for details that will stick in your mind: Enoch's chalk outline on a sidewalk or on Halloween death'sx's over his eyes; Annabel's frank, talky intro to Enoch's parents' gravestones or rehearsal of her own romanticized death in a scene she jokingly wishes for; her easy, black humor ("How are you?" "Same old, same old -- still dying!") that her bf pay a visit to her eyes in a jar after she donates her body to science.

An element that does not consistently work is Enoch's imaginary friendship with the ghost of a Kamikaze fighter, Hiroshi (Ryō Kase), providing yet another out-of-the-box death perspective. While their dialogue over board games can be endearing and Hiroshi's grumbled jabs hilarious ("I still don't know why she's dressed like a boy"), his make-believe status (which gets a little confusing when he punches Enoch) robs most of his scenes of any import. And imaginary friends are not a red flag for Annabel, who smiles and doesn't miss a beat by immediately asking to meet the ghost.

But despite their and other able, even impressive, performances and the well-executed, comforting cinematography -- which veers from Portland, Oregon's somber grays to golden, autumn sunlight that makes you want to snuggle up with a mug of hot cocoa -- first-time screenwriter Jason Lew's storyline, based on a series of short plays and vignettes, feels lacking.

Annabel may sometimes suffer from fatigue, but her terminal cancer doesn't seem to prevent her from biking -- or, um, fencing? - in her final weeks. Though she suffers a seizure, she's spared the lapses in memory, personality changes, facial paralysis, vomiting or any other jarring symptoms many people suffer if they have tumors in their heads - and any of which would have made this a whole other kind of movie.

Not only that, she looks delightful to the end - most healthy women would kill for her looks even as she's dying. In other words, the lack of messiness normally associated with disease and death seems awfully contrived here, everyone remaining tres jolie on screen and none of those pesky reality-based signs of illness to worry their pretty heads about.

The meticulously pondered-over outfits look more like a designer's lived out fantasies than the dress of a couple of middle class young'uns giggling at the local graveyard. And the deluge of Kodak moments seems more like a J Crew ad than a character study or relationship drama. And wouldn't she freak out at some point, in perhaps a weak (read: emotionally healthy) moment? Not a single furious outburst over dying young, leaving her true love behind? No bout of depression, no extended crying jag? This chick is a cyborg. Not to mention, the lack of conflict translates to occasional dullness. While Enoch's denial and inner turmoil and are a bit more believable, his journey still manages to end on a puzzlingly flat note.

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall behind the scenes considering that three of the major cast or crew members are the offspring of famous, long-time Hollywood fixtures: Hopper is son to the late, great Dennis Hopper; producer Bryce Dallas-Howard is of course daughter to Ron (who, with Brian Grazer, also helped produce) and actress Schuyler Fisk, playing Annabel's sister, is daughter to none other than Sissy Spacek.

Genre/s: Drama
Release Date/s: September 16, 2011 (Showtimes & Tickets)
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Production Company: Imagine Entertainment

CAST and CREW FOR Restless
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper, Ryo Kase, Schuyler Fisk, Jane Adams, Lusia Strus and Chin Han
Directed By: Gus Van Sant
Written By: Jason Lew
Produced By: Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Bryce Dallas Howard

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