Reviewed by: Nick Da Costa

Hesher is a power-rock parable centring on a blistering performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the man himself. A trickster god, profanely wise, neither friend nor foe, but somewhere in the middle. Introduced as some kind of vengeful wraith, tossing incendiaries, both literal and verbal, he’s initially an irrepressible figment, but gains solidity and substance with every beat of his dark heart.

It’s a delight to see Gordon-Levitt return to the verbal virility of Brick after his role as a neutered sap in (500) Days of Summer. Natalie Portman is tempered innocence as Nicole, the damaged angel counterpart to Hesher, who stirs the fragile soul of the red hoodie-wearing TJ (Devin Brochu), our Sal Mineo in this Grimm Rebel Without A Cause fairytale.

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On the surface it might seem a simple story of overcoming grief in the remains of a shattered family. Hesher is the raging ID that invades the home of TJ, a boy struggling to deal with the grief over the death of his mother, and left to practically fend for himself as his father - a comically subdued and bearded Rainn Wilson - sits in a sofa coma and pops pills. In the background there is the tender, almost translucent form of TJ’s grandmother (Piper Laurie, soft and serene) who is the only one who makes an immediate connection with the unruly new presence.

The film’s been compared to Little Miss Sunshine for its exploration of dysfunctional families, but this is far more explicit, and uneven, making certain scenes - such as the grandmother’s comical education into correct bong use - an odd mixture of the striking and the squandered, especially when you realise it’s supposed to lead to a moment of emotional impact and narrative resonance.

What tone is the film trying to strike, exactly? Is it destructive noir or contemplative whimsy? An all to familiar theme in most indie flicks. With the cacophonous rock and the schizophrenic changes in Hesher’s mood it’s hard to tell. In fact, who is the real lead in this film? TJ’s quest is to recover a car, supposedly a defining moment in the film’s overall emotional tapestry, but you’re less interested in that than what Hesher will do next.

The film barrels towards a climax that, wrapped up in an amusing tale of testicle obliteration, cannot hide a soppy, and on the nose explanation of its metaphors. The movie best summed up by Rainn Wilson’s tear-stricken face as he helps push a coffin down the street: overplayed and far less subtly conveyed than it thinks.

Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2010
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A mysterious, anarchical trickster descends on the lives of a family struggling to deal with a painful loss.
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Director: Spencer Susser

Writer: Spencer Susser and David Michod, based on a story by Brian Charles Frank

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie, John Carroll Lynch, Audrey Wasilewski, Frank Collison, Devin Brochu, Lyle Kanouse, Paul Bates, Monica Staggs, Allan Graf, Biff Yeager, Brendan Hill, Van Epperson

Year: 2010

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2010

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