Responses to trauma come in all kinds of forms. Typically, the reaction is gauged by the original incident. Imagine, then, losing your mother at such a young age. The focus of Hesher is, surprisingly, not on Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), exactly, but on the young TJ Forney (Devin Brochu).
Don’t get me wrong, Hesher serves to be the most important character in the film, but this is TJ’s story through and through. Of course, it’s statistically impossible to ignore any scene Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s in.
Hesher is about TJ and his father, Paul (Rainn Wilson), recovering from the tragic death of their family’s matriarch. Living with TJ’s Grandmother, Madeleine (Piper Laurie), the two of them grieve in their own, depressed ways. That’s when the long-haired metalhead, Hesher, enters their lives. The always rude and crude Hesher imposes on the family by moving in, and it’s through his very skewered and maniacal interactions with them that TJ and Paul are able to find themselves once again.
As previously stated, TJ is the main character, and Brochu performs admirably. He’s able to find a conflicting range of emotions, from his unrequited love for grocery store clerk, Nicole (Natalie Portman), to the angst and rage over his Mom’s death. I love when main characters are played by young actors because they’re allowed to tap into the depth of their ability early on so they can cultivate it throughout their careers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brochu gains more attention from this performance.
The rest of the supporting characters are a mixed bag: Laurie plays the stereotypical role of “wise, naïve old lady” role with no real surprises (other than one particular scene with Hesher towards the end); Portman’s role as Nicole is what you’ve come to expect from her, i.e. the always sweet and endearing love interest; Wilson, however, is given the opportunity to show his range by playing the morose and broken Paul. I’d love to see him act in more dramatic roles, because he’s more than capable to handle them.
That leaves us with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. What can I say about him that hasn’t already been said before? This man is one of the best actors of my generation. Instead of shying away from some semblance of a comfort zone, he embraces roles that call for him to play all kinds of characters (as you’ll be aware of if you’ve followed his career post-3rd Rock from the Sun). Hesher is unlike any character he’s played in recent memory; he’s unforgiving, crude, and an overall asshole. For the bulk of the film, I thoroughly despised him and his seemingly disregard for any idea of respect. But man, is he funny. In some of the scenes where he’s being a complete jerk, you can’t help but laugh at his actions, whether it’s him leaving a fart in TJ’s room or telling an anecdote about an orgy between him and four other girls. Somehow, there’s a deeper meaning behind his non-sequitors.
Hesher is writer/director Spencer Susser’s feature film debut, but you wouldn’t guess it once the credits roll. Granted, the overall theme of the film is redemption, which can’t be found without the black sheep outsider guiding TJ and Paul. However, instead of simply going for a black-and-white approach (a la Urkel in Family Matters), he creates a completely unlikable jerk in Hesher who’s only redeemable in the final act of the film. If you’re into really dark comedies or Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acting, Hesher’s the film for you.