×

Hesher

Director Spencer Susser spikes every scene with gratuitous provocations and repetitive vulgarities.

With:
Hesher - Joseph Gordon-Levitt T.J. - Devin Brochu Paul Forney - Rainn Wilson Nicole - Natalie Portman Madeleine Forney - Piper Laurie

A badass loner employs his own peculiarly noxious ways of pulling a boy out of paralyzing grief in “Hesher.” Debuting director Spencer Susser redeems his willfully antisocial central character via a climactic act of charity bordering on love, but prior to that goes out of his way to spike every scene with gratuitous provocations and repetitive vulgarities that become old very quickly. Still, the violent anarchist with a giant upraised middle finger tattooed on his back played with manifest enthusiasm by Joseph Gordon-Levitt will appeal to more than a few young males, giving this indie with 22 producers a good shot at an active commercial life.

Hesher” is far from the first picture to make something of its own from the basic premise of Jean Renoir’s “Boudu Saved from Drowning,” that being the invasion of a household by a wayward, unstoppable, transformative force of nature. Here, the interloper is a Charles Manson lookalike with a tat on his chest of a guy blowing his brains out, who, without benefit of an invitation, plunks himself down in a modest San Fernando Valley home whose occupants are suffocating with the depression of mourning.

Prepubescent T.J. (Devin Brochu) goes through the motions of attending school, but is obsessed with retrieving from salvage the car in which his mother died in a wreck two months earlier. Dad (Rainn Wilson) has turned into a vegetable, while Grandma (Piper Laurie) is at least able to put food into the mouths of the sad, dysfunctional males. In a particularly grating subplot, little T.J. is violently bullied for unknown reasons by a much bigger boy, and Dad’s half-hearted effort to participate with his son in “transformational grief therapy” washes out.

In this menagerie of emotional zombies, Hesher has free rein. Physically threatening and scarily temperamental, the long-haired heavy-metal freak lounges around in his underwear, watches porn, fills the house with variations on the F-word and soon gets T.J. in enough trouble to land him at the police station. Never supplied with an ounce of backstory, Hesher is a hyperactive volcano that erupts several times daily; whatever the reasons, he betrays no trace of giving a damn about anyone or anything.

One vaguely bright spot in T.J.’s life is a literally accidental relationship he forms with impoverished grocery cashier Nicole (co-producer Natalie Portman, sporting outsized Sarah Palin-style glasses that give her a queasily strong resemblance to — Sarah Palin). Typically, Hesher spoils the budding friendship by meanly badgering the boy about when he’s going to make it sexual, while in his spare time giving Grandma pointers on how to use a bong.

Young auds who reflexively find this sort of flagrant transgressiveness amusing will no doubt take the picture to heart. But the problem with the script by Susser and David Michod, working from a story by Brian Charles Frank, is that Hesher’s uncouth behavior is so aggressively pushed to single-minded, crudely exploitative effect. The ending is meant to have made the ordeal all worth it, but while the payoff does possess a certain purgative effect akin to the benefits of tough love, the value of the journey for the audience, as opposed to the characters, is highly questionable.

Levitt, in a flamboyant about-face from “500 Days of Summer,” is undeniably charismatic as the from-nowhere wild man whom you’d never want to meet in real life, but who is memorable after a fashion onscreen. An appealing blond kid, Brochu holds his own and then some as he gets into innumerable physical and verbal scrapes.

Tech package is OK, with colors in the interiors overly subdued even for the sought-after mood.

Popular on Variety

Hesher

Production: A Corner Store Entertainment presentation of a Last Picture Co. production with Handsomecharlie Films in association with American Work, Dreamagine Entertainment and Catchplay. Produced by Lucy Cooper, Matthew Weaver, Scott Prisand, Natalie Portman, Spencer Susser, Johnny Lin, Win Sheridan. Executive producers, Jonathan Weisgal, Wayne Chang, Aleen Keshishian, Annette Savitch, Scot Armstrong, Ravi Nandan. Co-producers, Aaron Downing, Rob Ortiz, Scott Kluge, Jeff Davis, Jay Rifkin, Ari Ackerman, Jay Franks, Happy Walters, Gina Kirkpatrick. Directed by Spencer Susser. Screenplay, Susser, David Michod; story, Brian Charles Frank.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, DV), Morgan Pierre Susser; editor, Michael McKusker; production designer, Laura Fox; art director, Charles Varga; set decorator, Jennifer Lukehart; costume designer, April Napier; sound, Lee Orloff; associate producers, Tom Pellegrini, Chase Mishkin, Israel Wolfson; assistant director, Sylvester "Chip" Signore; casting, Kim Davis, Justine Baddeley. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 22, 2010. Running time: 105 MIN.

With: Hesher - Joseph Gordon-Levitt T.J. - Devin Brochu Paul Forney - Rainn Wilson Nicole - Natalie Portman Madeleine Forney - Piper Laurie

More Film

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content