PFF 2010: HESHER REVIEW
Who is Hesher? Hesher is a head banging, cunt punching, car bombing, nihilistic Marry Poppins for the Heavy Metal Parking Lot set and also one of the most captivating and memorable characters of recent memory.
I can already see the Hesher T-shirts flying off of the shelves at Hot Topic next year and expect to see plenty of Heshers at future Halloween parties. But don't let that assertion persuade you.
The debut feature film of Spencer Susser of I Love You Sarah Jane fame, Hesher is a wholly unique and original film that ScreenAnarchy readers are bound to eat up. While this can be categorized as "a mystic visitor"/ "guardian angel" story, it's difficult to think of another film to compare its actual tone with. For once, Hesher is an American/Australian indie from a first time director that doesn't wear its influences on its sleeve.
Joseph Gordon Levitt once again knocks his role out the park and has proven that he seems incapable of doing anything wrong.
But, I did enter the film with a lot of trepidation. This isn't Hesher's story. Although the film obviously bears his name, this is the tale of a 10 year old boy named TJ, a child struggling with the sudden and violent loss of his mother. His father, Paul, played by Rainn Wilson of The Office has sunk into a deep and highly medicated depression. TJ is in desperate need of a supportive role model but his father can barely get off of the couch. He also lives with his bewildered grandmother who's sweet but completely clueless. Things are even worse at school where TJ is tortured by a vicious bully.
When TJ meets Hesher in a scenario far too awesome and absurd to spoil, his life is forever changed. Yes, this is an existentialist guardian angel film. TJ and his family will learn important lessons about life and come to move past their grief through the wild antics of the mysterious Hesher. Although, I suspect the characters may be worse off having known Hesher in the long run.
This isn't some generically cute and quirky pseudo indie film like the synopsis may initially make it out to be. The film does not play nice, there's a palatable sense of danger in Hesher's destructive and often potentially lethal behavior. He hurts people, and really isn't someone you'll necessarily want to root for. But damn if his crude, obscenely vulgar sense of humor isn't funny. People will be laughing and cringing in equal measure. Susser often takes things much further than most would otherwise expect. The humor here is of the darkest variety.
More importantly, Susser has done an excellent job of finding a balance between the emotional gravity & levity of TJ's story and the over the top chaos provided by Hesher. TJ, his grandmother, and all the other supporting characters are equally as captivating as Levitt's, albeit in different ways. All too often with films of this nature, one character over empowers the rest. I expected to Hesher to steal the film and I expected to be bored with the main storyline while waiting for Levitt to reappear to fuck things up. But this was not the case. Devin Brochu gives an impressive performance as TJ and even Natalie Portman is commendable as Nicole, the narcissistic hipster supermarket cashier who T.J. develops an obsessive crush on.
The true brilliance of the film is the way Susser roots everything in a grounded reality. This is not Napoleon Dynamite; this is not Little Miss Sunshine, or any Wes Anderson film. Actually, it's a lot closer to Takashi Miike's Visitor Q. Much of the humor here is based around everyone's reaction to Hesher. Spencer unleashes this loose cannon in a world that feels authentic and real and features one the single most hilariously insane and touching funeral scenes ever.
It's rare that I feel the need to restrain myself from spoiling plot points in film reviews. One of the best traits of ScreenAnarchy is the fact that it attracts passionate and knowledgeable film lovers who come here to discuss films in detail. But Hesher is a wild ride that's often unpredictable; I'm remaining relatively vague in my description in this review. The less you know, the better the film is sure to work.
I can't possibly recommend this enough. I've already sat through 13 films in the past four days at the 19th Philadelphia Film Festival and have another 20 to go in the coming week. Hesher has already become one of my top picks for the year and the film to be beat in this festival.
And apparently, according to Susser, Hesher plays surprisingly well with an older crowd, a fact I learned at its screening. Your grandmother will fucking love this film.
So keep your ears perked and eyes peeled for a March/April release. I expect there will be a lot more written in these pages in the coming months. I should also have an interview with Spencer Susser up within the next week.