Gus Van Sant's Restless is predicated on an old movie truism: The quirkiest romances begin at funerals.
That's where Enoch (Henry Hopper) meets Annabel (Mia Wasikowska). He's a morbidly curious funeral-crashing teenager who lives in a rundown mansion, wears black clothes from another era and plays Battleship with the ghost of a kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase).
Naturally, Annabel, who tells him she volunteers in a local hospital, is drawn to him. She wants to tag along to the funerals. And when she bails Enoch out of a tight spot with a funeral director, she's in. But we think that funeral director is right on the money.
"Either you are the world's unluckiest boy or a sick prankster."
Thus an odd and oddly touching romance begins, but one that grasps the doomed nature of all love affairs, even among the young.
You have to get past the names of the characters. Really, Enoch Brae and Annabel Cotton? Did Flannery O'Connor write this? Actor-turned-writer Jason Lew did, with fond memories of that 1970s funeral romance classic Harold & Maude.
It helps to not dwell on Enoch's home life, or wardrobe. Teenagers drawing chalk outlines of themselves like murder victims? Adorable. The whole bickering with Hiroshi, the kamikaze pilot, over life, love and Battleship is just too cute. "I saw a Mitsubishi car today," Hiroshi says. "So what?" "I used to fly a Mitsubishi." "You used to crash Mitsubishis." "Only one."
What Louisville native Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) was going for in this latest tale of out-of-step, brooding teens is a romantic fable. We peel back layers of each character and find their motivations.
Annabel is bothered when Enoch keeps calling patients in her hospital "cancer kids" instead of "kids with cancer." Enoch is pointlessly cruel to the aunt (Jane Adams) who takes care of him. And Annabel's family is leery of the weird boy she's spending too much time with.
Wasikowska gives Annabel a lovely fatalism and curiosity. And Hopper, son of the late actor Dennis Hopper, transcends the posing cliché this character could have been, making Enoch an angry kid just figuring things out, working through some issues and avoiding dealing with the Big Thing that's bothering him.
Restless is far more precious than profound. But that takes little away from this soulful teenage exploration of love, life and death.