All young lovers fancy themselves in their own special world beyond others' full understanding. But Restless buys into that specialness with a vengeance. Its romanticism is that an arrested-adolescent type spanning the tuberculic etherealism of those wasting Victorian heroines Edward Gorey parodied, the girl-dying-from-too-much-spiritual-radiance Love Story (1970) formula, and the smiley face noncomformism of Harold and Maude (1971) and its ilk, wherein acting childish was a rebellious act of sticking it to the Man. In such narratives our protagonists almost never have jobs, likable relatives, or other real-world responsibilities, the better to act out fey fanasties together, then wallow in picturesque pathos alone. They're their own Make a Wish Foundation, 24/7.
Puppies and kittens are cute, and getting suckered by this kind of enterprise is hardly the worst form of audience manipulation. But why is Van Sant playing enabler? One suspects there was something irresistible about first-time scenarist Jason Lew, just as there doubtless was to Matt 'n' Ben (Good Will Hunting) and to Milk's Dustin Lance Black.
But those choices were solid ones, at least. Always a fan of youth, the director is to be applauded for encouraging fledgling talent offscreen as well as on it. Still, occasional traces of his recognizable style hardly dilute the sugary sentimentality at the core of Restless, lend it actual gravitas or even the kind of fanciful mood that might excuse potential preciousness as fable. Twenty-two-but-passing-for-younger of the moment Wasikowska is fine, though she has been and will be better. Hopper, son of Dennis — how did such scrubbed, nonthreatening blond adorability arise from that gene pool? — is less evidently an actor in his first film than a prepube's pinup successor to Justin and Zac. Not that he's asked to act so much as pose fetchingly, of course. It may be Lew's idea to make Annabel the "mature one," but it feels very much Van Sant's to let the camera fawn so devotedly over Enoch.
RESTLESS opens Fri/16 in Bay Area theaters.