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Blu-Ray Review: Proudly Crude ‘Hesher’ Annoys Instead of Enlightens

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CHICAGO – Anyone who’s witnessed the wonderfully incoherent trailers for “Hesher” is bound to be curious about the film’s true nature. Why does Joseph Gordon-Levitt have a raised middle finger tattooed on his back and why is he jumping off a flaming diving board half-naked? Is this all part of a tongue-in-cheek stunt or do the filmmakers actually harbor serious intentions?

Turns out the answer is a bit of both. First-time feature director Spencer Susser is hell-bent on having his cake and blowing it up too. The film utilizes a series of cruel and obnoxious scenes to build what is intended to be a hilarious and heart-tugging quirk-fest. Gordon-Levitt may be one of the most gifted and appealing actors in modern film, but even his considerable charms can’t save the film’s irredeemable titular curiosity.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-Ray Rating: 2.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 2.0/5.0

Of course, the actor deserves credit for consistently taking risks with his career, and they have often paid off, but such risks are bound to result in a few misfires, and “Hesher” is a misfire of epic proportions. Devin Brochu cries an endless stream of tears as T.J., a thirteen-year-old boy grieving the loss of his recently deceased mother and the catatonic state of his father, Paul (Rainn Wilson). They’ve moved in with Paul’s elderly mother (an uncharacteristically perky Piper Laurie) who attempts to break the suffocating silence with her sweet anecdotes. Then Hesher (Gordon-Levitt) literally walks into their lives. Hesher has long hair, an infinite assortment of cigarettes and absolutely no literal reason for existing. He’s just a screenwriting construct dreamed up by Susser and his co-writer David Michôd as an alleged catalyst to get T.J. and Paul back into the normal rhythms of everyday life. In order to achieve this, Hesher extols foul-mouthed wisdom in between blowing s—t up. Lots and lots of s—t. Though Hesher shows no remorse for the random acts of cruelty he inflicts on strangers, Susser tries to portray him as a badass with a do-gooder agenda. He’s essentially the externalized id of T.J.(much like Francois in “Youth in Revolt”), but the perplexed boy never decides what to make of this cackling vexation and his trail of senseless destruction. Who could blame him?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in Spencer Susser’s Hesher.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in Spencer Susser’s Hesher.
Photo credit: Lionsgate Entertainment

Adding to the unrelenting weirdness is the sight of newly minted Oscar-winner Natalie Portman in oversized glasses plunked behind a cash register as T.J.’s adult crush (his attraction to her is positively Jake Lloydian). Portman is touchingly vulnerable in her few scenes. In fact, the entire cast is uniformly strong. Brochu’s mumbled line delivery is entirely authentic, and he’s well-matched by Wilson, who displays the same gravity and poignance that he brought to James Gunn’s “Super,” a woefully overlooked satire that blended vulgar comedy and brutal violence into a far more satisfying cinematic confection. “Hesher” has its heart in the right place, but not its head, its eyes, its ears or any other part of its bony body. Hesher’s squeamish feel-good monologue at the film’s finale is laughable not because it’s funny, but because the filmmakers try to pass it off as life-altering insight. There is simply nothing for the characters (or the audience) to gain from coming in contact with Hesher. His love of carnage is reflective of the need felt by angry kids to murder civilians in “Grand Theft Auto” and immerse themselves in the venting art form of heavy metal. He’s the cinematic equivalent of an expletive: loud, obnoxious, vaguely cathartic and thoroughly pointless.

Hesher was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Sept. 13, 2011.
Hesher was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Sept. 13, 2011.
Photo credit: Lionsgate Entertainment

“Hesher” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.44:1 aspect ratio) and English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that obscures the dialogue while amplifying the sound effects. A brief behind-the-scenes featurette offers hints as to why Portman chose to serve as co-producer as well as co-star. She praises Susser for his “straightforward and honest” approach to the material, and says that Hesher is “an embodiment of what T.J. is going through.” Gordon-Levitt goes a step further by claiming that the character is a mystic fool with “a heart of gold” that has garnered comparisons to Mary Poppins. The disc’s seven minutes of deleted scenes include a nice moment set around the ever-tense family dinner table that effectively portrays T.J.’s pent-up frustration at his father’s perpetual listlessness. When Paul says that he’s not ready to return to work, T.J. indignantly replies, “I’m not ready either.” Both actors are so strong that one could imagine a straight drama featuring both men in the same roles.
The ensemble gets an even better showcase in the super-sized gag reel, which lasts nearly a half-hour and is divided into segments focusing on each of the four main actors. It’s fun to see Laurie crack up during one of Gordon-Levitt’s filthier line readings and doubly fun to see Wilson break character entirely and start clowning for the camera. His outtakes are predictably the best, though even he becomes suspicious that the director is merely “fishing for DVD extras.” There’s an extended riff where Wilson performs various foreign versions of the film’s “sing-a-long” car ride flashback, though my favorite bit centered all-too-briefly on the actor’s spot-on Rush Limbaugh impression.

‘Hesher’ is released by Lionsgate Entertainment and stars Devin Brochu, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rainn Wilson, Natalie Portman, Piper Laurie and John Carroll Lynch. It was written by Spencer Susser and David Michôd and directed by Spencer Susser. It was released on Sept. 13, 2011. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

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