Restless (2011) (PG-13)

Gus van Sant's "Restless" is a work in sorrow and love, but mostly love. It captures the adolescent doomed romance saga almost better than any film in the past has done, or any work in recent years. The most notable item that you can liken the film to is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; but here's the problem...this came first. It will get overshadowed by the teen-frenzy surrounding the other picture and will most likely disappear into the background; but it doesn't deserve to.
The movie, which plays to its hipster audience strongly and without regret, is almost too simple for its own good.
"Restless" begins in "Harold and Maude" fashion with a boy visiting funerals. It lacks the charismatic, dark humor of the cult classic; but the sweetness is here. Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper with hair all askew in typical "oh, did I just wake up this good looking?" fashion) is a disturbed young man. He likes going to funerals, but we never quite know why. We know that he's been to a dark place in his emotional life and that suicide is implied in a few moments; but that doesn't really justify his obsession with death.
Along comes Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska, the shining light of the picture) the girl with the incredibly sunny disposition and only three months to live.
The only other character to the film is Hiroshi (RyĆ“ Kase) the ghost of a kamikaze pilot who died and now haunts Enoch. This much is all told in the trailer, so I don't feel like I'm spoiling. 
Even if you didn't know what you were getting into, the film's cheerful dreariness gets you in the very first few scenes. It doesn't hold back, but then again, it doesn't indulge either.
Perhaps the best aspect of the movie is the teenager's dialogue which blunders from "you knows" to "likes" to "whatever" and never feels contrived. It never feels like some begrudged adult writing the script in anger towards his younger cohorts, nor does it feel like the immature work of an author too young for his years. The script comes from Jason Lew, who really hasn't done that much...which is surprising because of the artistic flare he has.
I don't know how much of the story telling is Gus Van Sant's doing, but I would guess that it is the lion's share.
Enoch is removed from his sullen hours by Annabel's cheerfulness, but she tells him before they get into anything serious that she is going to die in a few months. They decide to being a romance anyway, one they know that they cannot finish. But what is finishing a romance? Does that mean that we shouldn't try for love at all?
"Restless" doesn't seem to think so. 
It turns the ruthless non-believer into a soft centered lover, and we enjoy watching that because it feels natural. The film does have an ethereal quality to it, the appearance of the ghosts are enough to cement this. 
The film makes The Fault in Our Stars seem somewhat crass, just by how the characters speak. The characters in John Green's book are not real, the characters here are. I'm not saying that the book isn't good, because I liked it; but this is better.
The passion of the film isn't as smutty as some other works. Annabel and Enoch's kisses are soft and tender...much like the movie itself.
It's awkward, lovely, imperfect, and ultimately very satisfying.

Score: ★★★½

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