Over the past few years I've become increasingly wary of what a cliche it is becoming to judge indie movies for being cliche. It's been done so much, that it is becoming a mostly empty judgment to level at a film. Or so I thought. Restless, the new picture from Gus Van Sant, has reinvigorated my belief in railing against the twee tropes that have so viciously infected small pictures by proving to me how they can ruin a good idea by turning it into a banal, surface level exercise in style and faux-profundity that lacks even the vaguest sense of depth.
Another in a string of misses from Van Sant (Paranoid Park, Last Days, Elephant. I exclude the pretty good Milk, as it was a project that was "bigger" than just Van Sant, as opposed to this and the others), Restless is the story of death obsessed youth Enoch (Henry Hopper) and his romance with the cancer stricken Annabelle (Mia Wasikowska), plus his ongoing friendship with Japanese kamikaze pilot ghost Hiroshi (Ryo Kase).
Working off of a deeply bad script from newcomer Jason Lew, Van Sant tries with his all his might to wring some sort of "meaning" from this kid-gloves fluff piece about mortality, failing throughout except for the briefest of moments. While the film's laconic nature might suggest that it's a more naturalistic take on death and loss, it is really just another, perhaps more devious kind of plastic trickery.
Enoch is a first-level character who is given no help by the severely out of his depth Hopper (son of Dennis) who seems to be trying his hardest to even deliver the lines correctly, let alone imbue them with any pathos or hint that they're coming from a real person. Keep in mind he's saddled with some true stinkers that sound straight out of someone's LiveJournal, but nonetheless he's only tolerable when he's not speaking.
Wasikowska, on the other hand, proves herself once again to be one of the most talented young actresses working today, makes the most of her also asinine role. She's also someone who's just magnetic on camera, and Van Sant does still have the beautiful eye for the pacific northwest that he always has. You'll find yourself wishing, at least I did, that the movie was perhaps a silent, 30-minute nature film instead.
Kase is good as well, but there is never any delivery (and I don't at all mean in the sense of "answers") to his supernatural character's presence in the story. In fact, most of Restless will leave you unfulfilled. Any smart or empathetic ideas about dying young is superseded by quirky outfits, Sufjan Stevens music, and Enoch and Annabelle yelling/whispering meaningless platitudes to each other.
Unfortunately, because every character is constantly making proclamations about how important and profound everything is, the movie ends up an instantly forgettable trifle. The worst part is that I can see that, somewhere in there, there's an interesting story, there really is, and I think some actors that are willing to deliver it (perhaps the frustratingly cameo-restricted Jane Adams could hop into drag to sub in for Hopper). But for now, Restless mired in its misguided need to "mean something."