Some of the story elements (like Wasikowska's character, or even the movie's love for xylophones) conflict with Van Sant's intentions to tell a story that does more than just romanticize death for teenagers who already reading Romeo and Juliet in high school, etc.


(If Michael Cera were in this movie, "Restless" would truly be dead in the water.) Hopefully they'll see more than just being sick or mourning someone as a way to justify narcissism.





Henry Hopper, son of the late Dennis Hopper, plays Enoch, a young boy who crashes funerals. He doesn't make a scene at these ceremonies, or do anything to intentionally disrespect those who are being honored. He just likes to be in the company of the dead, and of those who are able to send-off their loved ones (we find out exactly why later in the movie).


Enoch is friends with a ghost Hiroshi, (Ryo Kase), whom he plays Battleship and throws rocks at trains with. Hiroshi is a World War II kamikaze pilot who died in service.


And while Enoch doesn't crash funerals to pick up girls, he does that indirectly when he is spotted by Annabel, (Mia Wasikowska), a girl who has cancer. Annabel has an even quirkier point-of-view about death than Enoch, and while she might be bummed that she's going to die, she still has a sunny sense of humor about such a topic.

The two start up a friendship that quickly becomes romantic, usually talking about death, but not in a manner that is brooding or sad. They joke to themselves about the complete seriousness of such an event, and handle everything at face value. They're a couple of old souls who embrace death, as if it were no different than living.


Dressed like a hip whippersnapper, Hopper looks much like his father, but has a Franco-like grin. He even has the handsomely disheveled hair and laid-back attitude of some of Franco's more popular characters, but without the hazy eyes or fraternal tendencies.


Hopper shows that he has some screen presence of his own, and is represent to take the subject of grieving beyond looking like he constantly has a rain cloud casting over him. Sometimes Enoch seems naive about something he so heavily embraces, and sometimes he seems to actually have some wisdom. While he might talk to ghosts and hang out in graveyards, he isn't a big bummer. Either way, we are still interested in being with this character.


Wasikowska is like a mix of Jean Seberg and what the Onion's A.V Club has called "The Manic Pixie Girl," which Nathan Rabin defines as "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."

While this type of character has been associated with phonier composites before, Wasikowska's performance is earnest as it walks a fine line between sad and positively indifferent. When Enoch asks how she is feeling after a doctor's appointment, she simply says, "Same 'ol, still dying," the way someone answers that question when they actually say, "Oh, I'm doing alright."


Working with such a topic, "Restless" has a dark sense of humor that challenges death by literally toying with its darkness. The first shot of the movie is even of Hopper lying on his back, drawing his chalk outline on the pavement, and then maneuvering himself to fit into the outline. Later in the movie, after Annabel comes out of a transfusion, we watch as her and Enoch play Operation on her hospital bed. There are numerous moments like this, and the relationship between the two is colored a unique shade of gray because of them.


The way in which "Restless" presents these peculiar moments is very matter-of-fact, with no winks or nudges. Their straight-faced presence in the story gently invites us to work with a new angle on death, while seeing that nothing has to be really out of bounds or different under the clouds of mourning, and even sadness.


As earnest (and inspired) as the movie might be with its unique take on death, it's easy to lump in "Restless" with a whole group of quirky movies full of teenagers talking more like screenwriters' adolescent fantasies than reality, with quick wit and cute sarcastic scenarios (role-playing, basically) to boot. The interactions are cute, (like when they go into the woods and play with flashlights), but it's not sincere to the way real human beings, never mind teenagers, talk.

Dedicated to Dennis Hopper, "Restless" is essentially asking us, "Why does death have to be taken so seriously, if it's just as much a part of life as living?" It's a great question, and can feel very effective if given a film-long contemplation.


"Restless" is more inspired than it is original. It rescues itself from damning quirkiness with its sweet poetry about death, and its unique perspective on such a heavy, omnipotent subject.   -- NICK ALLEN, is also a film critic for The Scorecard Review and member of Chicago Film Critics Association