Restless (PG-13) (91 min.) — If you're making a movie that inevitably will be compared to another, Harold and Maude isn't a bad choice to echo. Director Gus Van Sant jettisons the age chasm between quirky lovers but retains much of the morbid whimsy in Restless, a romance of two oddballs obsessed with death yet appreciating what life offers in our limited time.
Henry Hopper — son of the late Dennis Hopper — plays Enoch, a loner spending his days quietly imposing on strangers' funerals and playing Battleship with his imaginary friend, a Japanese kamikaze pilot named Hiroshi (Ryo Kase). Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) plays Annabel, who also attends funerals for a more immediate reason: She's dying of a brain tumor. It's something like love at first eulogy.
Enoch and Annabel aren't naïve about mortality, giving them free rein to question it, make fun of it and feel comfortable about it. He introduces her to his parents — or rather their gravestones — and acts as a conduit for Annabel's conversations with Hiroshi. She realizes these are actually Enoch's thoughts and unconditionally accepts this fantasy. It's as if they've discovered a sixth stage of dying, after acceptance. Living is their private inside joke.
Jason Lew's screenplay and Van Sant's delicate handling of the material make Restless a surprisingly effective and certainly strange love story. Never do you feel the urge to ridicule Enoch and Annabel since they're obviously so content with each other. Much of that feeling comes from the performances of Hopper and Wasikowska, who have a firm grasp of these peculiar personalities.
Hopper in particular is fascinating to watch, if only for his eerie resemblance to his father in face and acting form. He has his old man's sloped nose, sense of discovery with his lines, and eyes that expressively narrow with curiosity or mistrust. This is his first leading role but certainly shouldn't be his last, unless the elder Hopper's iconoclasm rubbed off too much and he chucks show business.
Restless carefully parses clues as to why Enoch is the way he is, and handles Annabel's illness with the kind of ironic humor that can also be found in 50/50. Their circumstances beg for bathos yet Van Sant delivers none. This is a movie in which a buffet table of junk food can provoke a tear, and a morgue can be a romantic place for a date. It's a fragile tale that some viewers may smirk off the screen. Not me. A-
Steve Persall, Times movie critic