Hesher: Film Review
Spencer Susser, David Michod
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie
A movie about loss for audiences who would like to firebomb the Hallmark Channel, "Hesher" enters with a metal riff and, even when it's time to, can't quite bring itself to go soft.
PARK CITY -- A movie about loss for audiences who would like to firebomb the Hallmark Channel, Hesher enters with a metal riff and, even when it's time to, can't quite bring itself to go soft. Too dark for a very broad audience, it will flummox some viewers drawn by its cast but will strike others with its more-than-prickly approach and standoffish humor.
Everyone plays against type here, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt's title character is such an unendearing sociopath it's fun to imagine how he'd react to getting dumped in 500 Days of Summer. A stringy-haired outlaw who moves in -- uninvited -- with teenage T.J. when the boy gets him kicked out his squatter's digs, Hesher acts out according to rules only he can imagine.
Played by Devin Brochu, T.J. is the story's center, a kid who, as if losing his mother in a recent car wreck weren't enough, suffers constant abuse and indignity. Writer-director Spencer Susser stages his trials with the immediacy of a just-bloodied nose, and when T.J. gets knocked over for the third or fourth time, you realize Brochu has been right to play the boy with that perpetual look or fearful alertness.
T.J. lives in a bleak world, with Dad (Rainn Wilson) handling his grief with pills, Grandma (Piper Laurie) just a few steps away from senility, and now a nearly naked drug dealer eating half the family groceries. Even the supermarket near his house, where he nurtures a fascination with a cashier who was kind to him once (Natalie Portman, playing down both her wit and her looks), would already have been third-rate back in the '70s.
Hardly plot-driven, the movie simmers in T.J.'s pain and marvels at Hesher's id while keeping tabs, now and then, on the boy's quixotic attempt to get back the car his father was driving when his mother died. The inevitable flashback to the last, cut-short happy moment the family enjoyed is barely less stomach-turning for being predictable.
Although he's not out to shock anyone, Susser deliberately throws in a bit more violence and abusive language than moviegoers expect from their quirky Sundance films about misfits. His movie has a heart, but (beyond some pretty broad cues to read its action as metaphor) doesn't want to spoon-feed anyone. Whether they appreciate that or not, moviegoers will have to admit the movie is true to itself.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (No distributor)
Production companies: Corner Store Entertainment, the Last Picture Co., Handsomecharlie Films, Dreamagine Entertainment and Catchplay, American Work
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie, Natalie Portman
Director: Spencer Susser
Screenwriters: Spencer Susser & David Michod
Executive producers: Jonathan Weisgal & Wayne Chang, Aleen Keshishian,
Annette Savitch, Scot Armstrong & Ravi Nandan
Producer: Lucy Cooper, Matthew Weaver & Scott Prisand, Natalie Portman, Spencer Susser, Johnny Lin, Win Sheridan
Director of photography: Morgan Pierre Susser
Production designer: Laura Fox
Costume designer: April Napier
Editor: Michael Mckusker
Sales agent: WME and CAA
MPAA rating: R, 107 minutes