Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is magical. Sort of. He doesn’t do anything completely out of the realms of believable human behavior, but he does seem pretty impervious to damage, bouncing back easily from falls and kicks to the groin. He’s able to appear out of and vanish into nowhere at just the right moment. And he apparently forces another character to have a minor car accident using the might of his air drumming.
Also, he looms outside T.J.’s (Devin Brochu) English class window just as the teacher asks what metaphor a character’s dreams represents, which comes across as more of a wink than knock on the head. Everything about the start of “Hesher,” the first feature from Spencer Susser, is clever, strange and promising, which makes its eventual downhill gallop into becoming just another indie flick with a dirty mouth and a big, goopy heart of gold terribly disappointing. Not enough “Visitor Q,” too much “Mary Poppins.”
When Hesher arrives, 13-year-old T.J.’s family is in the grip of overwhelming grief. His mother died two months ago in a car accident, and his father Paul (Rainn Wilson) is dealing with this by downing pills and hibernating on the couch all day. His elderly, misty-minded grandmother (Piper Laurie) tries to take care of them, but T.J., filled with rage and sadness, just wants to be left alone. He isn’t — when taking out his anger on the windows of a half-constructed model house, he attracts the attention of the lanky-haired metalhead who’s squatting there, and soon Hesher has forced his way into becoming the family’s unasked for house guest, none of the members together enough to question or remedy this fact.
Gordon-Levitt has and is a great time as Hesher, talking in a growl, never walking when he can stomp, eternally shirtless and scruffy. He drives a dilapidated van and is covered in DIY tattoos, he likes setting things on fire and doling out wisdom via inappropriate anecdotes that could also just be non sequiturs. He’s hilarious, but there’s too much of him in the movie, and the unpredictability of his behavior starts to just seem like filler, eroding his mystery as the inexorable healing process begins.
You can imagine “Hesher” being a great short, but as a feature it mostly spins its wheels, unsure of what to do with its interesting premise. Oh, and Natalie Portman’s in it, playing the usual Natalie Portman character.
“Hesher” does not yet have U.S. distribution.