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Toronto 2011. Gus Van Sant's "Restless"

Panned in Cannes, then panned again in Toronto, Restless ventures out into limited release.

When Restless opened Un Certain Regard in Cannes this spring, most critics groaned and moved on to their next screening. Some, though, such as Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, weren't ready to dismiss it entirely, and Daniel Kasman found a few kind words for cinematographer Harris Savides. Still, having screened in Toronto and now set for a limited release in the States tomorrow, Restless is being slapped with another round of pans.

Nick Schager in Slant: "Gus Van Sant's cinema, which of late has been fixated on immersing viewers in particular times and spaces, takes a detour into excruciating quirkland with Restless, a work of off-putting bathos and lovey-dovey nonsense that inspires not just the titular agitation, but stomach-cramping, eye-rolling antipathy. Written by Jason Lew with a dedication to making every single note ring false, this modern-hipster Love Story charts the unexpected and ill-fated romance of two dopey fictional creations, who — with every trait italicized with adorableness — resemble compendiums of precious affectations, incapable of sharing chemistry because they're incapable of registering as flesh-and-blood humans."

Fernando F Croce at the House Next Door: "A dreamy orphan (Henry Hopper, channeling Papa Dennis's brooding 50s period) and an ailing gamine (Mia Wasikowska, taking the obligatory spin in the Manic Pixie Dream Girl carousel) are the teens flirting with the Reaper, meeting cute at a funeral and cementing their love by visiting morgues, drawing critters at the cemetery, and laying down on chalk outlines. Along for the ride is the affable ghost of a WWII Japanese kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase), always ready to drop earnest bromides ('Death is easy. Love is hard') while on the soundtrack Danny Elfman unloads music box after music box of goo."

"Restless is emo drama at its most insufferable," declares Scott Tobias. His fellow critic at the AV Club, Keith Phipps, has offered a headline for his review: Harold and Maudlin.

More from Kurt Halfyard (Twitch), Mark Holcomb (Voice), Kiva Reardon (Cinema Scope), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 3/5), Henry Stewart (L) and Drew Taylor (Playlist, D-).

Updates: "Van Sant's innate graciousness and way with young performers — which he's displayed to excellent effects in films as wide-ranging as Good Will Hunting, Elephant and Paranoid Park — sometimes serve him reasonably well within the very contrived contrivances of Lew's script, and some of the film's unexpected flights of poetic license shake up the banality a bit," offers Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies. "And every now and then there's a moment, a flash of light in a performer's eye or in a landscape, that makes you happy that someone this year is making a tender-hearted movie about vulnerable people. But the moment passes, the generally expected continues to happen, and we're left with another coming-of-age tale of getting to the emotional maturity while not letting go of the quirk. Meh."

Movieline's ST VanAirsdale talks with Van Sant about "Restless's festival reception, the one-size-fits-all perils of test screenings, the 20th anniversary of his classic My Own Private Idaho, and what he was thinking when throwing his name in the hat to direct The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn."

Now then. The Museum of the Moving Image has a Van Sant retrospective going on through September 30 and Matthew Connolly asks, "How do you explain Gus Van Sant?… Every notable American director who's been working as long as Van Sant has had their share of artistic black-sheep and commercial cash-ins. But Gus's career is curious for how his shifts in aesthetic rigor and financial success have come in such easily cordoned-off movements, such that they can't be dismissed as one-off misjudgments or financial stopgaps. And the director has offered strikingly little explanation for these periods other than a general curiosity to, you know, try something new."

Also in Alt Screen, Dan Callahan: "My Own Private Idaho [1991] is a seminal movie for many people. It certainly has been for me."

Updates, 9/16: "The unpleasant bodily facts of disease are entirely ignored," notes AO Scott in the New York Times. A "single graceful seizure signals that Annabel's final crisis is at hand. And within the penumbra of her saintliness any suggestion of rage against the dying of the light — from Enoch or from her devoted older sister, Liz (Schuyler Fisk) — seems uncouth. And yet, like those damned Sufjan Stevens songs [on the soundtrack], Restless can get under your skin, even if you are suspicious of its motives and dubious of its ideas."

"Van Sant extracts something wonderful from his somewhat contrived setup," argues the New Yorker's Richard Brody. "All couples meet by a seeming miracle, and what brings this young pair together is less the way they think about death than the way they live. His real subject is the theatre of daily life — the mask and the costume, the assumed identity — as a formative and defining teen-age experience. 'I've always wanted you to admire my suffering' (as Kafka knew) is the fallback position for the adolescent not-quite-alpha male whose powers of invention get channelled instead into an elaborate (or, as Nietzsche might have said, priestly) ritual of abnegation, a theatre of self-denial that aims nonetheless at achieving the usual gratification (unless — and there's another story — he internalizes his performance and takes its means as its ends: the portrait of the artist as a young dogmatist). Enoch is a type, but realized with a tender specificity."

"Restless is really just a wisp of a movie — there's very little to hold this bit of dandelion fluff to the ground. But it's painless to watch," finds Movieline's Stephanie Zackarek. "Hopper and Wasikowska are sweet together, and she, in particular, knows how to play guilenessness as something other than a kind of vapidity. (She brought an exquisite matter-of-factness, and plenty of vulnerability, to Cary Joji Fukunaga's fine adaptation of Jane Eyre, the kind of performance that bodes well for a young actress's future.) These two young performers emerge relatively unscathed from the heartfelt absurdity of the movie around them."

Gregg LaGambina interviews Van Sant for the AV Club.

Updates, 9/17: "In toto, Gus Van Sant might be the most troublesome American filmmaker working," writes Michael Atkinson at Moving Image Source, "if we decide beforehand how we will choose to define contemporary auteurism, and if we insist on filmmakers manifesting their ostensibly singular personalities in an at least nominally singular fashion."

Alexandria Simmonds talks with Van Sant for Interview.

An Alt Screen roundup on To Die For (1995).

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