by Bryce Dallas Howard, Producer of Restless and star of The Help
When I was still a teenager just beginning university in New York City I found myself doing quite a bit of experimental theater, and for some reason in all of these theater pieces the actors were naked on stage for excessively long periods of time. I remember in one particular show I wordlessly mooned the audience for close to 45 minutes. What exactly we were attempting to say with those pieces of theater escapes me, but the friendships I formed during the course of those productions were lasting and permanent. One of my dearest friends from this time is Jason Lew—the writer of Restless. At school he was considered one of the most gifted students, and certainly one of the most passionate. I was always fascinated by him; a voracious reader, intense conversationalist, party animal, unknowing eccentric. I didn’t know much about Jason’s past, and I became extremely curious when he revealed that he had written a film loosely based on the personal experiences of his childhood.
I remember my husband read the script first while I watched our 6-month-old son. After he finished he stumbled into the kitchen absolutely balling and saying over and over ‘Bryce, you must read this immediately.’ I read the script that night and called Jason. Our conversation lasted four-and-a-half hours.
Jason’s father is a pediatric oncologist and as a result most of Jason’s closest friends growing up were his father’s patients. His best friends and childhood crushes were literally kids who were dying. He wrote an irreverent, playful, innocent story of a teenage boy who falls in love with a girl who has only three months left to live. The premise of the film came from a very intimate place within Jason. It was a story he needed to tell and as a result the film felt heartbreakingly honest. He had tapped early on in his writing process into universal truths that so often elude and escape even the most masterful storytellers. But it was the fictional elements of the piece that in my opinion made the film stand apart. In the backstory of the narrative the boy’s parents die in a car accident that puts him into a coma; upon waking he encounters the ghost of a kamikaze pilot, someone who becomes his closest friend and confidant. Framing this innocent love story of a boy who, while crashing a funeral, meets a girl dying of terminal cancer is a powerful and understated journey of a ghost who yearns to ‘move on’ and yet cannot.
The story of Hiroshi (the kamikaze) represents the sort of quiet metaphorical poetry that exists within Restless. The film is simple, but certainly not straightforward. And that first time I read the script I was emotionally captivated and artistically inspired. I knew that it could be a long road (as it always is with a distinctive tale) and perhaps even a futile one. But I also knew that there was a chance that with just the right visionary behind this story something profound could be created.
After years of development and an instrumental creative partnership with Imagine Entertainment we sent the script to Gus Van Sant. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the high I felt when he said yes.
It is a precious and dear story that haunts and moves me even to this day. I am indebted to Jason, Gus, Imagine, and Sony Pictures Classics, and I am grateful for each and every individual who opens their hearts and shares this deeply personal experience with us.