3 stars (out of five)
I'll get to the movie in a minute.
I first heard the pop group Aberfeldy in 2004 on the Tom
Morton Show on Radio Scotland. I found the Edinburgh band clever and inventive,
with a winning mix of grown-up themes presented with insanely catchy melodies
and childlike musical flourishes. They quickly became one of my favorite groups
and I scoured the Internet looking for interviews and reviews of their stuff.
While Aberfeldy was widely praised, a number of writers referred to the band as
being "twee," a term with which I was unfamiliar. I checked the Merriam-Webster
dictionary and learned it means "affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate,
cute or quaint." That pissed me off - I mean, sure, the childlike element is
there, but what of it? Listen to "Do Whatever Turns You On"
and tell me these guys aren't great. Aberfeldy's cute and quaint touches are
positives that shouldn't be dismissed with a term like "twee."
This brings me - at last - to Gus Van Sant's Restless. The word "twee" comes up
repeatedly in the film's numerous negative reviews. "Van Sant lays on the whimsy
with a trowel," "Restless is far more
precious than profound," "'Twee' doesn't begin to describe this set-up." Get the
Restless looks at
the relationship between two young people dealing with mortality. The subject
is heavy, the tone is morbid-lite. Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk)
and writer Jason Lew temper the grimness by being as adorable as possible.
After opening with a Beatles tune - a real Beatles track, not a far less
expensive cover version - the Danny Elfman score soothes the ouchie moments
with lots of the kind of guitar-playing you'd expect Starbucks to play in their
stores if Starbucks played anything in their stores.
The young couple meets at a funeral. Annabel (Mia Wasikowska)
has three months to live - she has that special kind of terminal cancer that
makes you prettier and more saintly as the disease progresses. Enoch (Henry
Hopper, Dennis' son) is a funeral crasher. He survived a car crash that killed
his parents. Now he spends his idle time playing Battleship with the ghost of a
WWII kamikaze named Hiroshi (Ryo Kase).
Yes, I know. Between the terribly sincere guitars and the
friendly ghost and the Harold-and-Maude-without-the-balls
set-up, it sounds like a lot to take. But you know what? A moody PG-13 movie
starring two appealing young adults is going to attract a young crowd trying to
make sense of their mortality. So what's wrong with slathering death with
adorableness and a real Beatles song? The movie doesn't merely romanticize
death. It focuses on two people trying to deal with their pain and fear by
Restless isn't a
great film. The pacing is slow at times, my patience with Enoch wore thin at
several points and I had no idea what to make of the kamikaze spirit dude. But
I remember when I first grappled with the whole mortality thang (as opposed to
now, when I have it all figured out). I related to both of the kids. I felt
their pain and cared about their relationship. Restless is tender and well-intentioned and it may be helpful for
some of its younger viewers. That kind of twee is fine by me. Oh shit, how
adorable was that last sentence?