Restless, Cannes Film Festival

Teen angst that fails to convince
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The Independent Culture

So successful has Gus Van Sant been in trying to make films with teen appeal that the 58-year-old has now started making movies resembling the work of film-school students.

This romantic drama has the quirky indie aesthetic that has become Van Sant's modus operandi. The characters are an eclectic mix of terminally ill-cancer patient, angst-ridden high school dropout and the ghost of a kamikaze pilot.

But as with many misunderstood teenagers, it's hard to have empathy for these characters as they spend most of their existence in a solipsistic haze. Our romantic leads, Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska) and Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper), meet at a funeral. Annabel is facing up to her impending death from cancer: she is informed she only has three months to live. Her older sister (Schuyler Fisk, daughter of Sissy Spacek) wants to mollycoddle her through her last days, but the sprightly Annabel has other ideas and she falls for Enoch, a boy with seemingly no will to live. Indeed her joie de vivre is such that it's often easy to forget that she is about to die and the illness remains a dark cloud on the horizon. The emphasis is very much on the romance.

Playing her beau is Henry Hopper, son of the late Dennis Hopper. The handsome newcomer has already captured his father's ability to brood on screen. It's no surprise given his newcomer status that he delivers a reserved performance, overshadowed by his more experienced co-star.

Enoch is a typical Van Sant outsider and seems modelled on River Phoenix circa My Own Private Idaho. Instead of being the high-school star, misfortune has cast Enoch on the periphery. His parents died in a car crash and he has since gone off the rails. It's easy to see why he'd be infatuated with sick Annabel.

Enoch's best friend is Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), the ghost of a Second World War Japanese pilot. He is on hand to give advice whenever Enoch runs into a cul-de-sac but is also a character that seems to have no purpose except to be quirky and differentiate Restless from the plethora of other movies dealing with teenage love.

The film originated from a series of short plays and vignettes developed by screenwriter Jason Lew, who was an NYU classmate of the film's producer, the actress Bryce Dallas Howard. At times the movie betrays this legacy, as it feels like a series of scenes rather than a cohesive whole..

Restless has a more mainstream sensibility than his Palme d'Or winning high-school shooting drama Elephant, skateboard movie Paranoid Park and his almost silent homage to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, Last Days. But it's also less insightful about America's youth than any of these efforts.