Angst-ridden Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper) has little in the way of hobbies: when he’s not playing Battleships with his imaginary Kamikaze-pilot friend Hiroshi (Ryō Kase), he dons a black suit and spends his days crashing funerals. At one such funeral he meets the spritely Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska), a ‘Charlie’ Darwin enthusiast who’s dying of cancer.

Essentially, the film is concerned with the nascent relationship between Enoch and Annabel, and their struggle to make the latter’s final months as happy as possible. As a premise it’s pretty risky, especially when done in a slightly self-consciously kooky and fairly light manner.

The cancer, for example, is more of a plot device than a real disease – it has practically no physical manifestations (other than a pixie-ish haircut). And there will be many who think that the film’s occasionally twee veneer makes a mockery of real bereavement, but I’d argue otherwise. For me, Van Sant pulls it off, and he has Mia Wasikowska to thank.

Wasikowska’s portrayal of Annabel is so good that it practically carries the film. In Restless, it’s essential that we as the audience believe in Annabel because, without this belief, her impending death carries no weight and the film floats away into kookiness. Fortunately, Wasikowska plays it perfectly – alluring, childlike but not immature, quirky but not forced – she has a genuine human presence.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of her co-star, Henry Hopper. He has none of his dad’s fire and initially he’s difficult to like. As the film progresses, he just about manages to break free of his clichéd portrayal of a depressive teen, and he’s saved by what seems like genuine chemistry between him and Wasikowska.

Ultimately, it’s a quietly ambitious film which, whilst dealing with profound themes, makes no claims to speak for everyone or to be the final word on bereavement, but simply offers a strangely poignant depiction of the impact of death on two atypical teenagers. It may not be for everyone, but it’s still worth giving it a chance.

Restless
Out now at FACT

Kristian Doyle