One of the more popular concepts in film is a character appearing in someone’s life and causing them to change for the better. Hesher takes that premise to a completely unexpected place. Instead of the typical friendly character, we get the title character of Hesher, a loner metalhead who only cares about three things in life: explosions, cigarettes and pornography. No matter, as Hesher is not the main character in his own movie.
Rather, Hesher is a story about a boy named T.J. Forney (played by Devin Brochu), who has an emotionally void home-life after a recent loss in the family. His father, Paul (played by Rainn Wilson), tries to cope via medication and going to support groups. His grandmother, Madeleine (played by Piper Laurie), tries to be supportive but can do little to help the mood in the home. Things start to change when T.J. has a chance encounter with a squatter named Hesher (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Hesher follows T.J. around, eventually taking up residence in the Forney’s garage. Still troubled by their grief, none of the Forneys appear to react to the presence of Hesher in their house, even going as far as to set a place for him at dinner. As the weeks go by, Hesher begins to have some effect on the Forney family, such as an unlikely friendship with Madeleine and “helping” T.J. to act on his infatuation with Nicole (played by Natalie Portman, who also produced Hesher), as well as his interactions with a local bully.
All in all, Hesher is a movie that goes places that you do not see many stories go and taps into many emotional outlets. Throughout the film, the grief that has stricken the Forney family has brought the characters to the point where they do not seem to care about anything. Rather than react to a strange guy who just decides to start living in their home, they let it be. Apathy among the film’s characters is the only reason that the plot in Hesher even comes together, which some people may still have trouble buying into, yet it seems oddly understandable. The movie has been billed as a dark comedy, which is played off well and manages to compliment the fog of depression that hovers around. Hesher’s free use of language and laissez-faire attitude allow for certain comedic bits to work. Granted, this type of humor may not play well for some, but I found it refreshing to see that no verbal punches were pulled.
Even though Hesher does not seem like the best person to hang around a troubled child, he does have more to add than just making inappropriate observations and getting T.J. into trouble. In a strange way, Hesher helps T.J. to come out of his shell and Hesher does seem to care, on some level, about the Forney family. Credit Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance for getting that across; one of the hottest actors around these days, he plays Hesher perfectly by delivering a performance that’s raunchy and dry, but strangely friendly when he wants to be.
Devin Brochu does most of the toughest acting as T.J. He does a great job of providing a somewhat harsh look at growing up and the emotional turmoil that one goes through, especially considering the circumstances the character lives with. Throughout the film Hesher, one of the subplots is T.J. trying to track down a damaged car where he goes to the head of the shop offering to purchase it. Given the unusual situation, there is a level of innocence to his actions where it’s hard to be convincing, but Brochu pulls it off. Natalie Portman, the current Best Actress Oscar winner for Black Swan, provides an endearing performance, even though she plays a supporting role here.
It is the strong performances from the cast of Hesher and an original take on a familiar plot device that are the highlights of this film. The movie Hesher should throw off some members of the audience, at least those who think they can figure out what is going to happen next. While I find this to be a good thing, it hurts the film as well. I know what you’re thinking: “Unpredictability hurting a movie?” In this case, yes. At times, the film Hesher can give off the impression that it is trying too hard to do something unexpected, such as in a scene where the character of Hesher decides to destroy everything in and around a swimming pool for no particular reason. The volatile nature of the title character and the effect he has on the Forney family can be a bit intense for some viewers at times. Emotions run high in the movie Hesher, and some moments in the film can either be viewed as positives or as negatives, pertaining to the strength and viability of the story.
Much like its title character, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to Hesher. Director Spencer Susser has managed to weave a great tale about growing up and coping with loss amid the chaos that Hesher drives within his van. Hesher has a lot of feelings at work, with a lot of anger and sadness, but also with some hope. The magic of Hesher, the character, as in Hesher, the film, is the emotional roller coaster ride that goes along with him. Somehow, after all is said and done, you might even feel changed for the better after watching this film.
Rated R. Runtime 100 min. Theatrical release 5/13/2011.
PR.com Rating: B