Director: Spencer Susser
Writer: Spencer Susser and David Michôd
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Devin Brochu, Natalie Portman and Rainn Wilson
Length: 106 mins.
Release Date: May 13, 2011
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Hesher is an empty shell of a film which has an outlook on life reminiscent to an angsty teen trying to be as loud and crude as possible. The strength of the performances are diluted down by brash outbursts of hatred and a complete absence of sentimentality. Here is film about sadness and dealing with loss that rarely gives us any heart or sympathy for its suffering characters. When it does, its anarchic, hate-fueled aggression once again ruins the moment. Simply put, this is one of the most unsatisfying films I have seen all year long.
Paul Forney and his son TJ are struggling to deal with the loss of their wife/mother. TJ is bullied at school and desperately tries to regain the last piece of contact he has left with his mom – the wrecked car she was killed in – while his father copes with his depression by taking large amounts of pills and sleeping all day. But everything changes when TJ crosses paths with long-haired rocker, and occasional bomb extraordinaire, Hesher, and he chooses their home as his next crash pad.
Director Spencer Susser (who also co-wrote with David Michôd) showcases inconsistency in his first feature length directorial effort. The script creates an interesting character out of Hesher, but there was too much of him for me to handle and the payoff wasn’t worth the hassle. Susser lacks the maturity to make it all work. His presentation is emotionally shallow and his story seems to have been inspired by an angry need for attention.
Hesher is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He plays his infuriated role in the best way possible, but his character is repugnant and impossible to connect to or even like. Devin Brochu plays TJ. Like us, TJ is brutalized from start to finish. In the moments between TJ getting hit by cars and being beat up, Brochu delivers a nice performance. I was able to sympathize with him and care about him, but once those credits started, I realized I was not convinced that his life would get any better. This makes me wonder what the point of it all was. The film’s focus is Hesher’s relationship with TJ. Their relationship consists of extremely brief moments of subtle tenderness and understanding that is overpowered by Hesher’s uncontrollable, yet fairly one-dimensional personality.
Piper Laurie’s (The Hustler) performance as TJ’s grandmother, Madeleine, is what gives us most of those brief moments of genuine sentimentality that you almost have to ask for from Hesher – both character and film. Natalie Portman plays Nicole, a young woman struggling to make ends meet who steals TJ’s heart only to helplessly walk down Hesher’s path. Her performance is sweet, but too kind to be able to fit into the film’s dark nature. Rainn Wilson appears as TJ’s father. It is weird seeing him in such a depressing role and I’m not sure if it suits him or not.
A specific scene where Hesher blows up a car, leaves TJ behind to supposedly take the blame, and then hits TJ with his car when he refuses to accept a ride home perfectly sums up my feelings about the entire film. It smacks you in the face with its vehement aggression and then just piles it on layer after layer until that’s all that is left in your mind once it ends. That feeling was confirmed by Hesher’s distasteful and morbid final outburst that ruined the sentimental conclusion (did he have to have a beer?).
Why was this film so unsatisfying for me? I have been asking myself that question since before it was even fully finished. There is nothing wrong with the performances, the characters are acted like they are supposed to be. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt deserves some praise for handling such a ridiculously infuriating role and at least bringing hints of likability to it. With that said, I left Hesher feeling frustrated and depressed. Hesher is the evil brother of the indie delight Beginners, which also deals with the subjects of loss, grief, and moving on. It leaves out the heartfelt sentimentality and hopefulness, and substitutes it for attention-seeking anger. Here is a dark comedy that is too depressing to have fun with and too shallow to care for.
Filed Under: Reviews