Whenever I’m left to think of the films of director Gus Van Sant, I’m usually left off with a bad taste in the mouth with the exception of a few entries. At his very best, he can offer something rather fascinating but at his very worst, the work can feel so absorbed with what is forming it much to the point everything is absolutely unbearable. With Restless, it seems as if it’s that sort of case for it would be what one would expect from Gus Van Sant directing an indie romantic comedy – and everything already comes off in a more off-putting manner than ever. If the Psycho remake did not exist, this may very well be Gus Van Sant at his absolute worst as it may just as well be his most irritating film to date. Restless is a collection of everything that I absolutely hate about watching both Gus Van Sant at his very worst and these sorts of coming-of-age stories.
One of the most common criticisms that comes to mind when people talk of Restless is how much it takes from Hal Ashby’s cult comedy Harold and Maude. The main difference that comes about with Restless and Harold and Maude can arise straight up from the fact that Restless never has much reason behind the quirks that define its romantic leads much to the point that everything comes off as dreadfully self-loathing. It would be clear already from how frequently we are seeing that Van Sant’s protagonist, Enoch, is a man who is dealing with loss much to the point that his best friend is the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot (who may very well be one of the biggest grievances which arises from myself and this film) but that is the very least which comes about. Whereas Harold and Maude had some charm to Harold and his obsession with death, Enoch is the sort of figure who deserves a good punch in the face.
Akin to Harold in Harold and Maude, Enoch visits funerals of people whom he does not know. Whereas Harold was a man who was fueled by morbid curiosity, Enoch on the other hand is an outright disrespectful being especially to the dead. We understand already that he is a man coping with the loss of both of his parents, but I despise the mannerisms that characterize Enoch because he comes off as a self-loathing and obnoxious prick that has absolutely no reason whatsoever to behave the way he does. It’s quite common especially in rather terrible romance films to find lead characters who are absolutely detestable but the sort of character that Enoch has in here is something only teen angst and quirkiness can form for its own sake without carrying any form of soul.
He meets Mia Wasikowska’s Annabel, who plays as Maude. Annabel has cancer. The mix between a self-loathing protagonist who attends funerals for the sake of it and a cancer patient is already a good set-up for one thing, an incredibly hollow portrait supposedly about life from the perspectives of two teenagers we never get to know very well all on the count that they carry specific quirks to them and yet no actual sense of humanity. This characteristic of cancer is also used in such a manner that I greatly detest, only present as a means of trying to manipulate the audiences into crying yet providing and in turn, it all falls dreadfully flat because as mentioned before, the lead character of Enoch is an abhorrently detestable figure. It doesn’t help when Mia Wasikowska’s talent is so horribly played out in here because outside of what quirks her character has, nothing about her ever rings true but suddenly her cancer comes into play because the film believes it will become something much deeper and it comes off as trite, finding a way to force itself upon you.
If I were to talk about more grating aspects for the ears, one can already go ahead and complain about the dialogue for how horribly awful every exchange between every character is, but think back about whom it was who composed the score. It was Danny Elfman of all people. If the trailer would have already carried a note that would remind one of a bastardized version of the score to Terrence Malick’s Badlands, you’re quite unprepared for what Restless provides. The song choices are already awful for one, but I don’t know if I can come across something much worse to have been composed by Danny Elfman because the composition which he provides for such a film is absolutely grating for the ears it’s unbelievable.
Restless is the sort of film that believes it’s so deep but the final results being presented are something that is absolutely nauseating from start to finish. Every moment in Restless that tried to call out at being much deeper than what it really is (a huge bad of monotony and nothingness creates this void) became so glaringly blatant and all of it comes off as nothing more than horribly obnoxious. There’s absolutely no reason for such a hateful film like this to exist other than to satisfy self-loathing teenagers who want to find other self-loathing figures who take everything out on others who never deserved any of it. A filmmaker like Gus Van Sant can be rather fascinating, but the case for Restless was something else. It bags up all of his worst qualities as a filmmaker and what’s churned out is a relentlessly painful experience. Avoid this trash at all costs, and just stick with Harold and Maude.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sony Classics.
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Screenplay by Jason Lew
Produced by Gus Van Sant, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer
Starring Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase
Release Year: 2011
Running Time: 91 minutes