Directed by: Spencer Susser
Premise: A longhaired rocker moves in with a recently widowed father, his son, and mother.
What Works: Hesher is an unusual film. Like its title character, the film has a haphazard manner and a gruff tone, but the film also has an honest approach to the characters and the story. Hesher is very much like the Dr. Seuss story The Cat in the Hat, as the title character invites himself into a domestic environment and begins to cause chaos while spouting anecdotes and aphorisms that could be the brilliant insights of a rebel or just half-witted ramblings of drug-fried idiot. The brilliance of Hesher is that by the end of the film it is never quite clear into which of those categories its title character belongs and that makes the film very watchable and even re-watchable as viewers try to decipher how to feel about character. The key to Hesher’s success is its performances and it has a pair of very good contributions. First is Joseph Gordon Levitt as the title character. Levitt often plays articulate and polite characters but his role as the impulsive rocker goes in the opposite direction. The content of Levitt’s scenes varies greatly between mischief or outright violence, lucid bluntness that might be unrefined intelligence, and quite emotional moments of empathy. Levitt hits the tone right in every scene and makes each of them work. It is a tough role because Hesher does not fit neatly into protagonist or antagonist categories. This film aim for something more complex about life and how we deal with it and Levitt’s performance is the engine that gets the film to its destination. Although Levitt’s character is the most colorful, the film is led by Devin Brochu as the motherless young boy. There is a temptation in creating child characters to soften the world around them or to shield the characters and the actors from difficult or traumatic experiences. Not so in Hesher. The world that Brochu’s character inhabits is dangerous and he gets beaten and bruised by it. But because the film allows its main character to get hurt it also allows him to be vulnerable. And because the character is already vulnerable, Brochu and the filmmakers don’t need to hit us with sentimental dramatics in order for us to feel for him. This is a boy who is very much on his own, trying to cope with the loss of his mother and the chaos caused by the strange man who has entered his life. The tension between Brochu’s character and his father, played by Rainn Wilson, has a lot of reality to it and the film is one of the most honest portayals of youth seen in a recent film.
What Doesn’t: Hesher may not be a film for everyone. It is a tough movie in spots and the film is deliberately frustrating. The tone shifts radically from comical to dramatic between scenes and even within scenes. Its sense of humor is off beat, to say the least, and viewers are likely to be confronted with moments that they simply won’t know how to feel about. Those expecting a straightforward coming of age story won’t find it here and the film is rickety in places, with its ending that risks succumbing to the screenwriting indulgence of the climactic “big speech.” The film doesn’t quite go there or at least it reinterprets that convention to suit the nature of the film. But ultimately Hesher is a film that will likely appeal to viewers with a countercultural taste.
DVD extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, featurettes, and a trailer.
Bottom Line: Hesher is a challenging and ambitious film but is well made and has a some terrific performances. Viewers are likely to debate whether the film is brilliant or a piece of self-indulgent crap.
Episode: #367 (December 11, 2011)