Yes, Gus Van Sant's new film Restless (about upper middle class hetero teens at that), is more than a bit on the twee side of the road, and it is only held together (when it is held together, which probably amounts to less than half of its overall running time) by the performances of its young stars, Henry Hopper, son of Dennis (and in certain shots and at certain times, the kid is a dead ringer for his Rebel Without A Cause era dad) and Mia Wasikowska, a girl whose talents probably far outweigh her cliche'd role here (and probably far outweigh the other rather tepid roles she has been given thus far, the rather lackluster new edition of Jane Eyre included), but, as they say, it does have its moments.
The film, though far from the cinematic heights of the director's recent run of gritty, indie teen angst films (the so-called Death Trilogy that includes Gerry, Elephant & Last Days, followed by Paranoid Park, a fourth film squeezed into the trilogy in one way or another), nor as provocative as his earlier pre-Hollywood days of Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho, is at least beautifully shot by Van Sant's favourite DP Harris Savides (cinematographer on the aforementioned trilogy, as well as David Fincher's Zodiac and Sofia Coppola's Somewhere) - even while its storyline is ultimately bogged down by the inevitably treacly tale of quirky (read: fucked-up) teens in love, one of which just so happens to be dying of that favourite conveniently tragic, yet overly romanticized of movie ailments, cancer.
It's a shame really, because Wasikowska and Hopper (he especially) hand in a pair of rather great performances, especially considering what they are up against in the sappy, sentimental drivel that Van Sant, in what is most likely an assignment rather than a heartfelt work (Ron Howard and daughter Bryce Dallas are amongst the producers, and it is more likely their hearts that are in this more than Van Sant's), shovels at us throughout. Taking a page from far superior past films such as Harold and Maude, Rushmore and the oft-overlooked (though undeservingly so) Igby Goes Down, Van Sant attempts to erect a creature that the director really has no knowledge of how to make work. Instead, we are tossed a lame excuse for such a type of film - another in a dime-a-dozen series of teen angst films littering the indie cinematic highways.
I suppose one should just be glad the film isn't the total trainwreck it looked like it might have been from first look at the trailer. I also suppose this is, as they say, faint praise indeed (if it is even praise at all) and is a rather backhanded way of saying the film isn't as terrible as it could have been. And not so incidentally, Restless is not the lowest the director has sunk. After all, he did once make Finding Forrester, another assignment piece that did not have the performances of Wasikowska and Hopper to try and even things out. But as I have already said, these performances are just wasted here anyway, as is the performance of the always interesting Jane Adams, who must have taken this gig as a paycheck filler, since she only has a handful of lines and none of them have even an ounce of profundity anywhere in them. On the plus side, I do look quite forward to the young Mr. Hopper's next film - whatever it may be. [09/25/11]