No-Fun Gus Kills Tweens

Restless
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Reviewed in CityArts By Armond White
All that keeps the death-infatuated Restless from being laughably dismissed like last year’s Charlie St. Cloud is that it’s signed by Gus Van Sant. No mere sentimentalist who would employ a tween heartthrob like Zac Efron, Van Sant specializes in serious gloom.
Gloom with Van Sant’s special element of sexual pathology sets Restless apart from typical two-hankie liebestod [cq]. Shy boy Enoch (Henry Hopper) meets whimsical, fatally-ill bird-lover Annabel (Mia Wiakowska, Tim Burton‘s Alice in Wonderland here wearing Mia Farrow‘s pixie haircut from Rosemary‘s Baby) and they muse on their sexual neutrality and the mystery of death. Together they visit cemeteries and crash funerals; both are bright and prone to brooding. She reveres Darwin (“single greatest idea man ever had”) but is the opposite of a life force. After a close-call, Annabel reports to Enoch “I’ve been dead for three minutes and you know what’s there? Nothing.”
Van Sant peddles Nothing [cq] while other tragic teen love stories usually sell romantic overload. It’s part of his hipster creed to cancel optimism, faith and muse on meaninglessness. In Restless Van Sant emphasizes morbid whimsy, even employing Nico’s warbled elegy “The Fairest of Seasons.” (“Do I really have a hand in my forgetting.”) He shamelessly references the bombing of to Nagasaki to justify teenage nihilism and one shot lets Annabel’s bird book replace the Bible so this “naturalist” romance is actively, implicitly nihilistic. Their “romance” traces their individual lack of effect in society.
All this pessimistic calculation could maybe strike a chord with hopeless youth who feel misunderstood even in a Lady Gaga world. But that would result in a freak hit–weirdly sanctioning Van Sant’s own grown-up Gaga hopelessness as in his very calculated Nicole Kidman hit To Die For–though, interestingly, not the formulaic Finding Forrester (Too gay. Too upbeat. Van Sant has learned his lesson.) No-fun Gus shows the kids doing variations on snow angels, imitating crime-scene body-outlines–a boldly negative switch on the sprawled body outline of David Bowie’s Lodger album cover that was celebrated in Todd Graff’s joyous Bandslam.
Art photographer William Eggleston makes a cameo appearance in Restless as an X-ray tech, apparently just to authenticate Van Sant’s spare, elegant visual anatomization of soullessness. Restless contrives to turn Van Sant’s absurdly praised “Death Trilogy” (Elephant, Last Days, Paranoid Park) into an ongoing series.