Gus Van Sant’s “Restless” falls short of expectations

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Henry Hopper as Enoch Brae on the set of Van Sant’s “Restless.” The movie failed to compare to previous works of his such as “Good Will Hunting” and “Milk.”

Cody Siler, Staff Writer

What does one do when a good entertainer produces something that’s just not good? Bill Murray in “Garfield”? Snoop Dogg’s “Malice in Wonderland”? Michael Jordan’s foray into baseball?

Gus Van Sant is a good director. Two “best director” Oscar  nominations and his impressive track record at the Cannes Film Festival offer ample evidence His newest movie, however, titled “Restless,” is – and there is no better way to put this – really, really bad. From the man who made “Good Will Hunting,” “Elephant” and “Milk,” one would expect better.

Restless is about Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper), a death-obsessed teen who satisfies his obsession by attending local funerals. At one of these funerals, he meets Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska), a fellow teenager with a terminal brain tumor and an unabating joy for being alive. Annabel’s distinguishing personality traits are her kindness and her remarkable ability to withstand Enoch’s constant angst.

Although the plot may sound promising, the acting is is cringe inducing at points. Wasikowska’s considerable talents are truly wasted in this cliché-driven wasteland of a script, and even Hopper’s bland nasal whining fails to make her look good. The ridiculous singularity of their personalities is amplified by the costumes; Enoch alternates between neo-punk outfits covered in zippers and absurd Victorian ensembles reminiscent of Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

The writing is even more disappointing than the acting. The sparse supporting characters exist only as momentary plot devices, and the film as a whole feels like a chaotic series of tiny subplots, with a brittle story attempting to tie them all together.

“Restless” is a disappointment. Van Sant failed to draw the intimate, emotional performances that he did in “Goodwill Hunting,” and didn’t evoke the unique cultural empathy of “Milk.” While the actors and the writing — like a person’s face and hair — are what strike the eye at first, it’s the responsibility of the director to evoke the proverbial “soul” of the movie. In this respect, Van Sant falls short of expectations.

The real disappointment of “Restless” wasn’t the cringe-worthy acting and writing, but seeing a director like Van Sant stoop to the level of the forced indie romances of recent years that “Restless” brings to mind.