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“Hesher,” Reviewed

“Hesher,” Reviewed (photo)

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Hesher is a strangely forgettable film, made even more strange since its final shot is of graffiti that reads “Hesher Was Here.” That’s not a spoiler – Hesher leaves an impression everywhere he goes whether he’s going to return or not. As played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he’s a nihilist who breaks into people’s houses to trash their backyard without reason yet abides by a moral code all his own, making it especially difficult for the 13-year-old TJ (Devin Brochu) to consider him a friend or foe.

For the sake of his father (Rainn Wilson) and his grandmother (Piper Laurie), TJ calls him a friend, though no member of the Forney family really knows why Hesher starts sleeping on their couch for days on end. TJ can only suspect it has something to do with accidentally stumbling into the stringy-haired drifter days earlier while trying to escape a schoolyard bully, and after suffering the loss of their matriarch, no one in the household can muster up the courage to kick Hesher out.

This contrivance gives Spencer Susser’s directorial debut its greatest strength and its biggest weakness as Gordon-Levitt is at the top of his game as the film’s titular character even if the film around him falls apart like so many ashes Hesher has left behind him. Hesher’s gravitational pull isn’t questioned as he heaves tables and sets fires, acts that the Forneys and their local ineffectual supermarket clerk (Natalie Portman), who also befriends TJ, only wish they could do in polite society. But Hesher, the film and the character, is defined by extremes, so having a strong center only magnifies what a dull world that’s created around him, insisted upon by Susser’s eternally sepia-tinged color palette and the characters’ eternal refrain from actually taking action.

Ironically, the foundation of the style here was also present in “Animal Kingdom,” the crime family saga made by David Michôd, one of Susser’s partners in the Blue Tongue Collective, the Australian group of filmmakers who are exciting thus far precisely because of their interest in upsetting the mundane. But Michôd, who is credited as a co-screenwriter on “Hesher,” had a far more interesting setting for his directorial debut, making a slow burn thriller where the outbursts of violence in an otherwise sedate tale of backroom manuevering worked as an interesting contrast to genre conventions, whereas when “Hesher” goes for the profound, it falls into the traps of indie quirk.

There are knowing nods in that direction – Hesher says at one point, “People always ask if I’m speaking in metaphors” after launching into an explanation of why he has only one testicle, and indeed, the testicle that’s gone missing could be an allusion to all the lost souls in “Hesher” with a missing piece. Unfortunately, by speaking around the truth, it feels like truth is absent from the film, an ambiguous search for meaning that disconnects from reality and never really creates a fully-formed alternative. There are lapses in logic — a subplot involving TJ’s interactions with a scrapyard dealer for his mother’s wrecked Volvo is one of the most glaring, and while it’s fun to see Hesher randomly pop up at any time as an apparition would, the lack of storytelling rules begins to drain the film of any narrative tension.

Besides squandering Wilson, who dealt with grief in far more intriguing ways recently in “Super,” “Hesher” is also a missed opportunity for its director Susser, a clearly skilled filmmaker with a sharp eye for composition and a potentially stronger one for observation. Little details sprinkled throughout the film, which gets fine performances out of nearly all its cast, suggest he understands the ripple effects of the smallest gestures – a gentle “whoa” from Portman’s Nicole as Hesher sets a diving board ablaze may be the film’s finest moment. But befitting of a story about a tempermental outsider, “Hesher” is wildly uneven, capable of a few whoa moments of its own when it isn’t getting lost in its cockeyed stab at spirituality.

“Hesher” is now open in limited release.

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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