Restless is likeliest to appeal to young people who relate to the heightened emotions of its leading characters, a teenage girl and boy who share a budding relationship—and a fascination with death. That they are played by the wonderful Mia Wasikowska, looking like a young Mia Farrow or Jean Seberg, and promising newcomer Henry Hopper (Dennis Hopper’s son, in his film debut) helps a great deal.
I found most of Justin Lew’s screenplay to be an exercise in forced whimsy. We meet the young protagonists at a series of—
—funerals they attend, in colorful, attention-getting attire. That could torpedo the movie on the spot if it weren’t for the natural appeal of its actors, who breathe life into a pair of self-consciously eccentric characters.
As it turns out, the gloomy Hopper has never gotten over the death of his parents, while Wasikowska is expressing her disdain for the cancer that is going to end her life sometime soon.
Restless has some touching moments as the two loners realize they’re falling in love, but it threatens to suffocate in its own quaintness. It’s only natural for teenagers to see life in outsized proportions and respond to big issues like death with an intensified degree of drama. But it doesn’t always make for a convincing narrative.
Director Gus Van Sant shot Restless in his favorite city, Portland, Oregon, which provides compatible locations for the story. He approaches the material in an admirably straightforward fashion, avoiding melodrama, but the coy nature of the material overtakes him from time to time. (Wasikowska is passionate about Charles Darwin, and sketches her favorite specimens of nature in the park.)
This might play more persuasively to romantic idealists than it did to me—although I was raised on a diet of Hollywood-style romance. Restless adds to my ever-growing admiration for Mia Wasikowska and provides a pleasant sense of discovery in seeing Dennis Hopper’s son acquit himself so well in a part that any actor would find challenging to put across.