Directed by Gus Van Sant
When I describe the plot of Restless, Gus Van Sant's sweet new movie about the paucity of time, the finality of death, and the small measures of love that give our short lives meaning, try not to roll your eyes. Ok, yes, it's about two teenagers who meet cute at a memorial service—she as a guest, he as a crasher, like Harold and Maude without the age discrepancy—and, yes, she has a terminal illness and he has a best friend who's the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot. But, despite this dangerous level of whimsy—compounded by a Danny Elfman score—Restless succeeds thanks to its winsome leads, black comedy and irreverent spirit. Plus, it'll make you cry.
Though tearjerker would be the wrong word because of its pejorative implication. Restless earns your tears, eschewing in favor of charisma the emotional manipulation that typically mars movies about death-disrupted puppy love, from Love Storyto A Walk to Remember. The young leads, played with anachronistic style by Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper (who has his father Dennis's eyes and James Franco's charm-dripping smile), are likable for their humor and honesty amid death. Rejecting despair, they always say yes, like students in an improv class, playing along for three weeks with every quirky course of action that presents itself. "Better late than never" is the movie's guiding spirit. They draw chalk lines around themselves; they go to a morgue and crack jokes about the frozen corpses locked away; they rehearse Wasikowska's death. Adults reprimand them for failing to exhibit proper deference toward mortality, but that's only because those grown-ups confuse fear and denial with due regard; the kids' warmth and acceptance, their refusal to give in to being afraid, to embrace instead receptivity and love, is the deepest respect—not toward death but toward life.
Opens September 16