- Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper star in the morbid-lite love story. Submitted photo.
3 stars (out of five)
I'll get to the movie in a minute.
I first heard the pop group Aberfeldy in 2004 on the Tom Morton Show on Radio Scotland. I found the Edinburgh band clever and inventive, with a winning mix of grown-up themes presented with insanely catchy melodies and childlike musical flourishes. They quickly became one of my favorite groups and I scoured the Internet looking for interviews and reviews of their stuff. While Aberfeldy was widely praised, a number of writers referred to the band as being "twee," a term with which I was unfamiliar. I checked the Merriam-Webster dictionary and learned it means "affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute or quaint." That pissed me off - I mean, sure, the childlike element is there, but what of it? Listen to "Do Whatever Turns You On" and tell me these guys aren't great. Aberfeldy's cute and quaint touches are positives that shouldn't be dismissed with a term like "twee."
This brings me - at last - to Gus Van Sant's Restless. The word "twee" comes up repeatedly in the film's numerous negative reviews. "Van Sant lays on the whimsy with a trowel," "Restless is far more precious than profound," "'Twee' doesn't begin to describe this set-up." Get the picture?
Restless looks at the relationship between two young people dealing with mortality. The subject is heavy, the tone is morbid-lite. Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk) and writer Jason Lew temper the grimness by being as adorable as possible. After opening with a Beatles tune - a real Beatles track, not a far less expensive cover version - the Danny Elfman score soothes the ouchie moments with lots of the kind of guitar-playing you'd expect Starbucks to play in their stores if Starbucks played anything in their stores.
The young couple meets at a funeral. Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) has three months to live - she has that special kind of terminal cancer that makes you prettier and more saintly as the disease progresses. Enoch (Henry Hopper, Dennis' son) is a funeral crasher. He survived a car crash that killed his parents. Now he spends his idle time playing Battleship with the ghost of a WWII kamikaze named Hiroshi (Ryo Kase).
Yes, I know. Between the terribly sincere guitars and the friendly ghost and the Harold-and-Maude-without-the-balls set-up, it sounds like a lot to take. But you know what? A moody PG-13 movie starring two appealing young adults is going to attract a young crowd trying to make sense of their mortality. So what's wrong with slathering death with adorableness and a real Beatles song? The movie doesn't merely romanticize death. It focuses on two people trying to deal with their pain and fear by romanticizing death.
Restless isn't a great film. The pacing is slow at times, my patience with Enoch wore thin at several points and I had no idea what to make of the kamikaze spirit dude. But I remember when I first grappled with the whole mortality thang (as opposed to now, when I have it all figured out). I related to both of the kids. I felt their pain and cared about their relationship. Restless is tender and well-intentioned and it may be helpful for some of its younger viewers. That kind of twee is fine by me. Oh shit, how adorable was that last sentence?