Star - Joseph Gordon - Levitt
Genre - Indie drama
County - USA
Certificate - R18
Run Time - 106 minutes
Blockbusters - £.2.00 per night rental
Amazon - £5.69 DVD (£8.35 Blue Ray)
So 'Hesher', urban slang for a hairy heavy metal music fan, someone who doesn't give a f**k and just wants to rock out and party, as coined by Beavis & Buthead. But can you build a worthy indie film around that creature? Natalie Portman felt you could and not only stars but produces the film, maybe having a crush on rising star Joseph Gordon -Levitt. I can see nothing else to get excited about for her to put up the hard earned here.
* Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Hesher
* Rainn Wilson as Paul Forney
* Natalie Portman as Nicole
* Devin Brochu as T. J. Forney
* Piper Laurie as Madeleine Forney
* John Carroll Lynch as Larry
* Audrey Wasilewski as Coleen Bolder
* Brendan Hill as Dustin
* Monica Staggs as Mom
=== The Plot ===
In a nondescript middle-class neighborhood somewhere in America a little lad called TJ (Devin Brochu) with an arm in cast races after a tow truck pulling his parents car, his little legs going like crazy on his pushbike, frantic to catch up, an impossible challenge, tear and grimace because he has failed.
TJ lives with his depressed pill popping father (Rain Wilson) and Grandma Madeleine (Piper Laurie), the matriarch of the house. But the mood is somber and something has clearly happened to throw the once happy family out of kilter. Life is no better at school, TJ being bullied by the towering oath Dustin (Brendan Hill) and unable to fight back, rescued from yet another beating by a scatty woman (Natalie Portman) in a supermarket carpark, but little TJ failing to than Nicole for her obvious bravery.
So enter the rather grungy Hesher (Joseph Gordon - Levitt), a hairy down and out caveman who is real mad with TJ after the little kid gets him evicted from his squat where TJ is exploring after skipping school, meaning the kid will have to provide him with a bed for the night, Hesher pitching up without invite with his washing and overnight bag (his ciggies and weed) and taking the spare room in the family home. Dad is too zonked out to care about the new lodger and grandma happy with another mouth to feed and talk with. But Hesher is no ordinary bum, getting a kick out of letting little TJ get even on the bully, setting fire to Dustin's car in his parents driveway for starters.
With the porn channel rigged up after Hesher shins up the telegraph pole and switches the wires, and grandma getting on swimmingly with Hesher and his marijuana habit, the family begins to stir back to life. But TJ is still obsessed with that family car and trying to buy it back from the insurance garage that owns it. What is it with that car?
Heshers approach to everything in life is hardcore and soon snaring Nicole in his evil web, little TJ stalking her for unknown reasons, the three soon on the rampage in a neighbors swimming pool. But there is meaning to Heshers chaos and slowly we learn why TJ is so angry with the world and why he wants the car back so much and keeps punching the wall in frustration, a make you jump moment when that does happen.
=== Results ===
California Man meets The Wonder Years is the best way to describe Hesher, yet another pretentious indie misfire that is college educated filmmaking at its most indulgent, dingbat Brendan Fraser doing his thing perhaps the wiser option to liven things up here. But up and coming star Joseph Gordon - Levitt chose to take it on and his mildly interesting caveman turn the only reason to watch this. I find Natalie Portman as irritating and waif as Kiera Knightly and so would never rent a movie just to see her. How dull was Black Swan!
The main problem here is the lack of meaningful narrative around the little boy lost and so disjointed to say the least as it drifts along to no real point. It's the perfunctory wobbly camera stuff and minimal dialogue to earn its indie stars and Levitt's ober cool grunting oath somewhat abstract to the films context - presumably that the real point. The Metallica and Motorhead heavy metal soundtrack maybe too much for some and the satanic metaphor over cooked. Levitt, a hardcore metal fan, claims to have based Hesher on Metallica drummer Cliff Burton. I presume the throwing of an old fashion dynamite stick at the cop's scene in the film came from Metallica.
It cost $7million to make and tanked horrendously, doing a pathetic $386,987 in the arty cinemas, the pull of Natalie Portman and Levitt not enough. As I said its amazing how the credit crunch didn't stop films like this being made and the money going where it's really needed. But I'm not against something different on film, however risky, and if this appeals to some then go see it just for Levitt. There are plenty more worthy indies to come, after all.
=== Ratings ===
Imdb.com - 7.0/10.0 (28,845 votes)
Metacritc.com - 45% critic's approval rating
Rottentomatos.com -54 % critic's approval rating
LA Times -'"Unusual Outsider Teaches Middle-Class People What It Means to Really Live...etc.."
Chicago Sun -Times -'Hesher" assembles a group of characters who aren't sure why they're in the same movie together'.
USA Today -'It's unflinching stuff, and might have worked if there were a reason for any of it. Levitt, Portman and Wilson work hard to infuse the film with some likeability'.
The Times -'Since [Gordon-Levitt's] one of the most energetic and inventive young actors in the business, you can't take your eyes off him. Unfortunately, the quality of the material makes you wish you could'.
The Age -'Some indie films seem to exist as exercises in strangeness, just to see how far they can go-and how long audiences will watch before screaming and running up the aisles'.
The Ontario times -'In his feature directorial debut, Spencer Susser establishes a deadpan, lost, grungy quality, the perfect place where a creature like Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) might have evolved'.
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Okay, so this is a bit of a weird one. I had no idea really what to expect; I came across it whilst browsing but hadn't heard of it before, only giving the blurb a quick skim and seeing some positive reviews before deciding to give it a try. I was also tempted by Gordon-Levitt being in this as I quite like him as an actor, amongst another strong cast name (Portman), plus it seemed like a good option for something light hearted on a quiet evening in.
This was directed by Spencer Susser, who seems to have worked on a few short pieces but nothing I recognise, so this is probably his first big name production. We're introduced to a small host of key characters; there's a young boy called T.J who has just lost his mother, leaving himself and his father distraught and moving in with his grandmother. T.J is having a tough time of things and the bullies at school are only making it worse. Intro Hesher, a loner-type of older kid that seems to pop up from nowhere, seemingly without a home or family of his own. His greasy hair, dishevelled look and smoking add to the image of his negative and isolated attitude, but perhaps there's more to this guy than first meets the eye. He happens upon T.J being bullied, but may not do anything to stop it, only to later step in; it appears he may be becoming the older brother type figure, even though one that wasn't actually invited into T.J's life.
Hesher literally seems to rock up and roll on in to grandma's house, making himself at home with this distraught family. The kid doesn't know what to do, grandma enjoys the company, and the dad too out of touch and a mess after his wife's death that he doesn't really know what to think. As the film continues, we see the relationships between Hesher and the family collide and develop. Then there's Nicole, a shy kind of young woman who works at a grocery store that T.J gets a crush on, even though he's a child in comparison to her, but their friendship begins to blossom, with both being somewhat outcasts to what they feel is mainstream society. In fact, T.J, Nicole and Hesher are all more similar than they probably realise, but as Hesher's behaviour gets more erratic and unpredictable, tensions arise. Who is really using who? Did Hesher help that family by coming in and changing the atmosphere, or did they help him by becoming his temporary family?
I won't say any more on the premise. It's actually pretty difficult to say what the storyline was because it wasn't a strong 'this-happens-that-happens' kind of film. It's more a drama with bits of comedy, tales of how lives interact and the impact of a stranger at the most unexpected of times. Hesher actually boarders a heart-warmingly sad genre and a comedy, with a bit of weirdness in between. There's some strong language in this and perhaps some 'vulgarity' where sexual talk is concerned, but that's about it, hence the 15 certificate. It seemed to be done fairly smoothly, added in for impact rather than for the sake of it, even though some of it was a little dubious perhaps.
The cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Hesher), Devin Brochu (T.J), Natalie Portman (Nicole) and Rainn Wilson (Paul, the father), amongst others. I actually thought that all played their respectives roles well, coming across as believable and easy to watch. Gordon-Levitt was the quirky and comical Hesher, with undertones of compassion and a hint of sadness, whilst Bronchu made me sympathise and feel his pain quite well as a boy a little lost in the world, devastation in the wake of his mother's death. All in all, the cast carried the film through well and I don't really have any negative comments on this.
This was quite an easy film to watch, keeping a relatively moderate pace throughout that was in keeping with a drama genre. There was some action here and there to liven things up, but I didn't find the downtimes to be too slow or stretched out, so I was kept fairly gripped from start to finish. What I really liked about this was its ability to make me empathise, to feel for the characters and begin to understand their thoughts and behaviours, T.J in particular. I actually found it pretty sad, but it did have a hint of being more uplifting and positive towards the end, so I was left feeling happy I'd seen it. The weirdness comes really in terms of things said and done, as well as the type of characters, but it's one of those 'feelings' you need to watch to be able to understand.
I wouldn't say this was anything extra-special, however, at times lacking some sort of 'oomph' I couldn't quite put my fingers on. It had a good overall feel to it, though it did seem quite understated and not high in budget, helping to keep it feeling that bit more gritty and realistic. There were a few moments that stuck in my mind, though probably not enough so to make this a film I'd go out of my way to recommend unfortunately. I did think the character development was fairly well done for the most part, which is what I thought most about after watching this. It's a little quirky in terms of characters and script to give it a little edge and help it stand out from the crowd, and it blended drama, compassion, sadness and comedy quite well. There was just the sense of it not being quite enough to make it really meaningful and poignant, though I'm still glad I watched it as it made for an entertaining evening.
Overall, I would recommend this as a thought-provoking flick with a good set of characters. It's easy enough to watch and entertaining, but I do think it could have had a bit of added 'spark' to make it more memorable and exciting.
DVD released 2012, rated Certificate 15
Selling on Amazon for £7.07