Friday, October 7, 2011

Don't Mess with Hesher

     Whoever said modesty is the road to salvation, was fortunate enough never to share that road with Hesher.

     How do you describe someone who's rude, crude and above all else dangerous? Well, for starters, he's definitely not someone you'd want looking after your kids, but that's putting it lightly. Let's just say, he wouldn't qualify for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America any day of the week. However, that's exactly who Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) ends up becoming, a sort-of mentor to the film's protagonist, T.J.

     Struck with grief over the recent death of his mother, T.J. (Devin Brochu) is struggling to learn how to cope with the loss. His widowed father (Rainn Wilson, The Office) can't help him; he can barely take care of himself. And his sweet grandmother (Piper Laurie, Carrie) is too senile to understand the morbidity of the situation. He has no friends and is constantly being harassed at school. He eventually runs into Hesher, who, after much creepy stalking, eventually invites himself as a permanent house-guest with T.J. and his family.

     Soon after, his bad influence on T.J., quickly takes a toll on the rest of the family, as well. He swears profusely, smokes in the house, almost gets T.J. thrown in jail, commits arson on an almost daily basis and did I mention the swearing? Yeah, it's bad, but creative, might I add. "What's green and slimy, and smells like bacon?" Sorry, you're just going to have to figure this one out on your own.

     T.J. is young and confused, he needs some obvious guidance, but is unsure if his new friend/roommate/guy-I-should-have-called-the-cops-on-the-moment-he-stepped-in-my-house will be any help in his silent search for clarity and salvation. And during the film, I found myself asking the same question.

     T.J. is shy, a bit confused and needs direction. He wants to stand up for himself and learn to talk to the pretty cashier (Natalie Portman, Black Swan) at the local grocery store--that is if Hesher won't get in the way. Hesher's abrasive approach, mixed with his often malicious words of wisdom (and trust me, it's hard to watch sometimes) makes him a very dangerous influence. However, you begin to wonder if his approach isn't exactly what T.J. might need. It's a constant struggle throughout the film seeing which character will break first, but I promise you it's one worth watching.

     Hesher marks the directorial debut for Spencer Susser, who also wrote the script, along with David Michod, based on Brian Charles Frank's story. The tone of the film is dark and often depressing, but Susser and Michod's script adds some lively and creative dialogue through Hesher's character, which actually turns out to be some of the highlights of the film: wondering what he'll say next.

     At times, you wonder if you can take the film seriously with all of the snarky and obscene remarks, but then remember you're watching Gordon-Levitt playing this character and are well assured he can pull this off. And he does. And after his performance in Mysterious Skin, there should be no doubt you're in good hands when watching one of his films. Also, worth mentioning is Wilson's sensitive, yet solid performance, which is a big departure from his t.v. character (no mustard-yellow shirts were worn during this movie).

     Whether you love Hesher or hate him (and you'd have plenty of reasons to) you can't help but want everything to turn out okay. You start to see that underneath all the layers there's a real person in there and hope he ends up saving himself, while "helping" T.J. and his family.

Rating: B+

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