Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Hesher
If you didn’t read the excerpt above, allow me to reiterate: Hesher is absolutely, positively, NOT a movie for everyone. It’s not a movie that a lot of people will likely enjoy. In fact, it’s probably a movie that only a very, very, specific type of audience would enjoy – similar to the love of heavy metal music implied in the title and embodied by the titular character.
That said, as far as its merits as movie go, Hesher is a film that tries a unique approach to a topic that has been all but strip mined in cinema (coping with grief), and the results are mixed, at best.
The story follows a young boy named T.J. (Devin Brochu) who has recently lost his mother in a tragic automobile accident. His father (Rainn Wilson of The Office) has been paralyzed with grief, while his grandmother (iconic actress Piper Laurie) is simply too old and feeble to manage a household and care for a grown man and young boy.
With no parent to supervise and/or comfort him, T.J. begins to go down a dark path as he is swallowed by his own grief: he constantly visits a scrapyard to sit in the wrecked car in which his mother perished; he skips school (and the bullies therein) to roam around town on his bike; stalks the mousey cashier at his local grocery store (Natalie Portman) with adolescent curiosity; and eventually moves to trespassing onto a construction site to break windows in a half-built house.
Unfortunately for T.J., (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the half-built house he stones is also the temporary dwelling of “Hesher” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a burnout metal-head complete with a rusted van as his trusty steed. Hesher takes none too kindly to T.J. attracting the local authorities with his stone-throwing tantrum; the gnarly burnout shows up on T.J.’s grandma’s doorstep claiming squatter’s rights, threatening T.J.’s family if the young boy doesn’t play along. Dad is too depressed to care about anything, while grandma is just happy to have anybody who isn’t an emotional zombie around. And so, T.J. is stuck with Hesher as a quasi-roommate, quasi-friend, quasi-jerk older brother and, somehow, a quasi-grief counselor and life coach.
Hesher marks the feature film debut of Spencer Susser, who co-wrote the script with rising star David Michod, the mind behind the screenplay of last year’s Oscar-nominated film, Animal Kingdom. The story was conceived by newcomer Brian Charles Frank, and it’s clear what the intention was: to explore the nature of grief (a cliched theme in cinema) via a character (Hesher) who can seemingly head-bang his way through all the tragedy life throws his way.
It’s an interesting premise that has one major flaw: A character who’s impervious to life’s hang-ups is also one that by nature must be extremely callous, selfish, crude, unreliable and somewhat juvenile – and Hesher is definitely all of those things. This is where the movie will inevitably divert a certain (read: high) percentage of viewers: like the music he embodies, Hesher is simply too extreme for some people to stomach – especially when he’s being juxtaposed to a young boy.
On the other hand, Gordon-Levitt’s talent as an actor makes Hesher a throughly engaging character to study and watch, if not sympathize with or relate to. He comes and goes throughout the film like a reoccurring thought in the mind (insert Inception joke), and when he’s onscreen the movie is manic, lively, interesting, and somewhat thrilling in its unpredictability. When Hesher is not onscreen, however, the film is somewhat lifeless, meandering, and at times, crushingly boring. A double-edged sword if ever there was any.
While young Devin Brochu carries the weight of his leading role well, it’s the supporting cast that most people will be interested in. Here, the famous faces are all strangely playing against their usual “type”: Rainn Wilson (known for his eccentric personality) is dull and vacant; Portman (known for her looks and melodramatic emoting) is reserve, mousy and as plain as a beautiful actress can look in a pair of oversized Clark Kent glasses. Piper Laurie totally plays against her own legendary portrayal of a psycho mama in the movie Carrie, by playing a quiet and overly passive matriarch who lets just about anything – and I do mean anything – go in her household.
Though a lot of the time Hesher feels as aimless, tiresome and unmotivated as, well, an actual hesher, there are some standout moments in the film. All these great moments come solely from Gordon-Levitt, whenever his raucous character attempts to deliver some twisted sage advice to young T.J. about the nature of life. One speech – in which Hesher states his views on happiness via a story about a threesome he once had – is something I don’t think I will ever forget. It’s a strange thing to call an achievement – but then, this is a strange film.
The ending is equally as weird, and consists of an epic Hesher-brand monologue delivered in front of a shocked audience at a funeral. Let’s just say there’s vomit involved. Overall, though, the film is a very strange and twisted journey, though Susser and Co. do manage to bring the characters around to a logical and fitting place, via the wild and crazy character who is (literally) the push they need to escape the jaws of grief.
Again, like heavy metal music itself this is not a film that will appeal to many, but those who love it, will likely love it fiercely.
Hesher is currently playing in limited theatrical release.
If you want to know more about the film, have a look at the trailer for Hesher below: