Gus Van Sant has always veered schizophrenically between adventurous art films (Elephant, Gerry) and mainstream treacle (Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester), and his latest effort, Restless, falls squarely in the latter category. Imagine Harold and Maude reconceived with a hot ingénue in place of wrinkled Ruth Gordon and you’ll have a fairly accurate sense of this nauseatingly twee doomed romance. Henry Hopper (the dead-ringer son of Dennis, in his screen debut) and Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre) star as a couple of doe-eyed teens who meet cute when he crashes the memorial service of one of her friends. Turns out she knows dying kids because she has a terminal brain tumor, though, like Ali MacGraw in Love Story, she just gets prettier and prettier as she approaches the grave.
Written by an NYU classmate of Bryce Dallas Howard (who co-produced), Restless piles on the quirk: Hopper’s wafer-thin mope is haunted by the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase), with whom he plays Battleship in his spare time, while Wasikowska opts to seize the day by memorizing the scientific nomenclature for every animal she encounters, smiling winsomely no matter how sick she becomes. Van Sant shoots this nonsense with the functional professionalism it deserves, abetted by a Danny Elfman score that insists we’re watching the two most adorable kids ever to give mortality the finger. It’s a fiasco, but that only makes Van Sant’s next film that much more likely to be a forbidding masterpiece.