Hesher (**½)

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a completely gonzo and borderline brilliant performance in the oddity that is Hesher, but sadly the offbeat indie doesn’t have a whole lot else going for it.  I’d never categorize this as a “bad” film, but it never really finds its footing and the plot really lacks enough of a point to distinguish itself.  The strength is in the acting, and not just Gordon-Levitt’s role.  Youngster Devin Brochu is quite good as well, with all of the supporting players doing solid work too (but more on that later).  Essentially, the movie is in search of a story.  There’s a real dark sense of humor that works for the flick, but it’s far too uneven to fully endorse and recommend.

T.J. (Brochu) is going through an incredibly rough time in his life.  His mother has recently died in a car accident, his father (Rainn Wilson) can’t seem to get off of the couch and find a way out of his depression, his grandmother (Piper Laurie) is going senile, and there’s a bully making him miserable at school.   The only bright spot seems to be Nicole (Natalie Portman), the grocery store clerk who protects him from the bully.  T.J. is hating the world…and then he runs into Hesher (Gordon-Levitt). 

The guy is a force of nature, absolutely profane and uncaring about the world.  He’s like an anarchist’s unrestrained Id unleashed upon the world.  When T.J. accidentally gets the homeless Hesher thrown out of his temporary residence, he decides to just move into T.J.’s grandmother’s place.  None of the family seems to pay him much mind, but Hesher takes a bit of an interest in T.J., attempting to help him solve his bullying problem.

Hesher has a bizarre way of solving problems, but he might just be able to help all of the people around him, including Nicole and T.J.’s family.  Life will never be the same now that Hesher is here.

If there’s one thing I can say is great about the flick, it’s the performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  He absolutely lets loose and has a ball as the title character.  This is a very different role than we’re used to seeing from the talented young actor, and it’s great to see that he has it in him.  From his violent outbursts to his profane and pornographic stories to his odd way of giving advice that actually works, Hesher is an actor’s dream.  He’s the best part of the film.

As for the rest, the best performance besides Gordon-Levitt’s belongs to Devin Brochu, who brings believability to the role of an angry and complicated young man.  This is a rather complex role, and Brochu is able to pull it off with aplomb.  Rainn Wilson continues to take more serious roles (depending on how you viewed his flick Super earlier this year), and while the character is very underdeveloped, he does a fine job.  Natalie Portman is also much underused as well, reducing her part to little more than a slightly different take on her character from Garden State, personality wise.  She’s fine in the role, but it’s nothing special.  Piper Laurie is good in her scenes as well, but nothing to write home about.  The rest of the cast includes John Carroll Lynch in a tiny role, but most of the praise has to go to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Co-writer and director Spencer Susser has an interesting style and a good concept on his hands, but he can’t fully make it work.  His direction is fine, but he’s mildly tone-deaf and the script he essayed with David Michod (of Animal Kingdom fame), based on a story by Brian Charles Frank…well, it’s a letdown.  They nailed the title character, but don’t surround him with much that’s worthwhile.  This is a textbook case of a script that would have been something to take note of with a polish that focused the story and gave it a more compelling plot.  There’s just not enough here.

Overall, Hesher is another one of those interesting failures that we see all the time in independent cinema.  I wanted to like this movie more than I did, but I do think it has a worthy lead performance to draw viewers in.  Those with a prudish streak will likely be offended by the dirty sense of humor that it has, but I found it amusing.  With a better screenplay, this would have been a good and potentially great film.  Sadly, that’s not the case.  I wouldn’t say to avoid this flick, but do know going in that it’s not much to get excited about.