Van Sant back to what he does best

Sorry it’s late. Mienheer presents…..

Initially this seems to be a serious, indie, hipster version of 'Wedding Crashers'. But only the funeral bit at the end, not the wedding bit. Our bed-haired teenage protagonist Enoch likes to hang out at other peoples’, whom he’s never actually met. He’s going along fine with this on his own until he runs into indie-movie-stereotype ditzy hippie chick Annabel, who gets wise to his game but also takes an instant liking to him, following him to the aforesaid functions and backing up his cover.

This is a classic gen x premise. Outsiders, death, morbid melancholy. The good in bad, the positivity in being okay with negativity. We seem to be back to Van Sant’s golden age milieu. Of ‘Drugstore Cowboy’ and ‘My Own Private Idaho’. Back also is the honey-brown, evening, autumnal glaze that everything is bathed in, that seems like quintessential Van Sant.

It’s like the nineties never went away. ‘Restless’ is in the tradition of ‘Benny & Joon’ and ‘That Thing Called Love’. It’s a charming, quirky, idiosyncratic love story. Henry Hopper’s Enoch is like a displaced Ian Curtis. The cute as a button Mia Wasikowska has the oddball beauty of Winona Ryder in ‘Beetlejuice’. They are 'happy not to be dead I guess'.

The cool thing about this new Van Sant is that it advances the ordinary gen x preoccupations into the more spiritual territory of, at the risk of sounding ridiculously overserious, the ‘meaning of life’. As in, when seen next to death.

Which is the main theme here. Its various incarnations are played with and weaved together beautifully. Cancer, evolution, war, ghosts. This is gentle, lyrical. Poetic. Possibly a bit too gentle, it could maybe use a little more bite. But it's still a delight and awesomely written with some really cool lines. 'It's alright. And if it's not it will be’. ‘It's Halloween, lighten up’. And when they’re caught in a morgue, ‘what are you doing here?’ ‘We’re just browsing.’

I think this is one of my favourite movies about death. Not as good a 'hanging out' movie as ‘Harold & Maude’, but it's getting there. It’s classic Van Sant. Awkward love blossoming between two teenage, outcast funeral crashers.

In traditional bittersweet, indie style, the soundtrack is a winsome, breathy blend of Simon & Garfunkel-esque acoustic and accordion folk.

The plot loses its way a little in the second half, losing focus, meandering around in the kind of obvious Halloween date sequence. Despite this, and the fact that the whole film is straight out of ‘Indie movie 101’, there’s enough curious and intriguing originality to keep us guessing and interested.

The young actors are great and charming, even if at times they don't quite convince of the depth of the layered and dark subject matter. They look a little too scrubbed and happy for it. A little gen y perhaps for this story. Not quite troubled, issued-up, careworn enough. Nevertheless the elegantly damaged effect is created.

This movie is nuanced, layered, intimate, delicate. There is a true pathos in the characters’ decision to pursue life, however fleeting and imperfect, instead of death. And it makes a memorable point about the obligation to live the living owe the dead.

The ending is a little bit of a copout – cutting away from Enoch’s final speech when we would have liked to hear it. But overall there is definitely something magical, tender and innocent about this movie. A small delight.



Posted by Prester John - 12/5/2011 11:50:37 PM


V83aNr Say, you got a nice article.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on...
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