September 9, 2011

THE BIJOU @ TIFF: Gus Van Sant’s “Restless”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Gus Van Sant has been making movies for 25 years, but Restless–apart from its technical polish–feels like the work of a Sundance newcomer. And one who’s been reading too much Salinger, while meanwhile wearing out his DVD of Harold and Maude.
Restless is way beyond twee; its mega-tweeness is like a Transformers movie compared to a typical Syfy series episode. While certainly heartfelt, Jason Lew’s script is nothing but affectation. Its hero, Enoch (!) (played by Henry Hopper, son of Dennis) has, since the untimely car crash death of his parents, treated death like a hobby. He crashes the funerals of strangers, draws chalk outlines around his own body, and has as his only friend the ghost of a Japanese WWII Kamikaze pilot. Clearly he needs to fully recognize and accept the emotional power of death.

Enter Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), who has the kind of magic movie cancer that kills you while causing no physical effect other than a pixie haircut. She and Enoch are made for each other, and once they’re sappily in love (she memorizes descriptions of water-fowl) it’s just a matter of waiting until Enoch sheds some really sad tears.
Van Sant is a gifted filmmaker even when his material is dross, and he works with a world-class team. (Not to mention a bigger budget than Sundance newbies can hope to have–that’s an actual Beatles master playing over the opening credits.) Harris Savides, his customary cinematographer, contributes lovely, romantic-sad images, and Danny Elfman’s score is all tinkling sentiment. For their parts, Hopper and Wasikowska are both excellent in their cliche-ridden roles, as is Schuyler Fisk as Annie’s sister, the closest person on screen to a recognizable human being.
Van Sant is a hard-to-predict director, who moves from fine commercial product like Good Will Hunting and Milk, to esoteric art projects like Gerry and Paranoid Park, to occasional sorry efforts like Finding Forrester and (although the softhearted may disagree) this. He should be due for a good one next time out.
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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."