Despite some buzz early last year, and an impressive cast, Spencer Susser’s odd but curiously sweet film Hesher skips a theatrical outing in the UK and heads straight to DVD. It’s not a brilliant film, but it’s miles better than much of the drivel that frequently crowds the screens. Maybe it will pick up a cult following due to the legions of Joseph Gordon-Levitt fans out there.
The movie focuses on a troubling period in the life of young schoolboy T.J. (Devin Brochu). His mother has died in a car accident and his father isn’t coping. The two of them have moved into grandma’s house and frequently argue. T.J.’s world takes a turn for the surreal when a strange, grungy, long-haired guy named Hesher (Gordon-Levitt) wanders into the house and starts living there as if it’s his own. The boy and the 20-something man form a love-hate relationship, providing T.J. with a coming-of-age story that’s disruptive, weird and at times rather dark.
The most interesting moments occur not during the madness (Hesher likes to throw things and set fire to them), but in the calm that follows them where we are allowed to observe the characters as they process emotions that are new and troubling to them. Devon Brochu as T.J. is very convincing as a boy who is trying (and struggling) to find a connection with people who don’t have much in common with him.
Each key character in this story is at a different period in their lives. The boy’s father is wandering through grief, unwilling to stay trapped in the past though unable to start a new future. Grandma is spending her final days trying to keep the family united. Poverty-stricken cashier Nicole (Natalie Portman), the subject of T.J.’s crush, doesn’t think anyone cares for her or would notice if she died. And Hesher is a loose cannon. He is the film’s biggest mystery.
Even in such a small role, Natalie Portman is sublime. Joseph Gordon-Levvit is also great, although there is something a little too Oscar-ish about his performance. I have to say, although he is a watchable presence in the movie, I think he’s been better in less crazy roles.
The film is an aimless mess, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. By the end it does lose the plot to an extent which may test some viewers’ patience. But it has a heart, and is emotionally perceptive. Whilst these merits don’t make it a masterpiece, they do make it a picture to admire.
Hesher (2011), directed by Spencer Susser, is distributed on DVD in the UK by Lionsgate, certificate 15.