Monday, September 12, 2011

Check It. Restless.

There's just something about the way Gus Van Sant sees and portrays love. The filmmaker's line of work over the past few decades has been varied, from Mala Noche to Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho to Milk, but there are always those moments, those glimpses of love that make it a unique Van Sant work, through and through. He's able capture love in ways that are vivid, raw, sometimes even surprising. Without you even expecting it, those moments stick with you long after the credits have rolled.

Van Sant unabashedly tackles the subject of love head-on in his latest film, Restless. The story, written by first-time screenwriter Jason Lew, follows the teenage romance of Enoch Brae (played by first-time actor and son of the late Dennis, Henry Hopper) and Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska), a relationship bookended by death. It's first love, always doomed, but beautiful nonetheless.

It's not surprising that the film has caught some of Van Sant's devotees off-guard since premiering at Cannes earlier this year -- it's probably his most blatant movie yet, this simple coming of age tale marked by first love. And teenage first love is difficult to portray without seeming contrived or overdone. The script does have its rookie moments, but Van Sant ultimately saves it, quite simply because there's really no one better at getting to the heart of youth in turmoil.

For one, Van Sant captures innocence beautifully in the film, helped further by a whimsicalness in the twosome's affinity for vintage fashion. The contradiction of old styles and the actors' fresh faces parallel the struggles of the characters, as they attempt to take hold of adult realities while also discovering the beauties in growing up. Hopper, especially for his first feature, was pretty fantastic in his control -- it's an understated role, of one always quietly in mourning, and he held it well. Wasikowska was beyond a perfect fit, exuding confidence and strength within a frail exterior. She really takes control of the film, and you really can't take your eyes off of her.

Restless may not be a daring film, per se, but as may often happen with Van Sant, you may be surprised with what sticks with you.

Restless opens in selected theaters this Friday.

-- Chau Tu

Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

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