• Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Devin Brochu, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, John Carroll Lynch • Directors: Spencer Susser • Number of discs: 1 • Rated: NR (Not Rated) • DVD Release Date: September 13, 2011 • Run Time: 106 minutes
Loud music. Pornography. Lighting fires. These are a few of Hesher’s favorite things. And they are what Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) brings into the lives of TJ (Devin Brochu) and his father Paul (Rainn Wilson) when he takes up residence in the garage uninvited. Grief stricken by the loss of TJ’s mother, Paul can’t muster the strength to evict the strange squatter and soon the long-haired, ta ttooed Hesher becomes a fixture in the household. Like a force of nature, Hesher’s anarchy shakes the family out of their grief and helps them embrace life once more.
As the title character in Hesher, Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears a grungy fright wig and anarchic death-metal attitude to match. He's worlds away from the suave, immaculately groomed covert operative he played in Inception. But what's consistent in both performances and the thing that gives the über-indie and perhaps overly nihilistic Hesher its punch is Gordon-Levitt's sleek, leonine physicality. Hesher is a mysterious, violent, rude, yet affectingly empathetic drifter who appears in the life of 13-year-old T.J., his depressed father, and ailing grandmother, all of whom are grieving the recent death of the boy's mother. Hesher drives a beat-up black van and sleeps in vacant houses (until he moves uninvited into T.J.'s garage), popping in and out of the action at random and seemingly just to bring more chaos into the life of T.J. and his family. Whether Hesher is what the family needs to unscrew itself from the funk of extreme dysfunction caused by their communal tragedy is something first-time writer-director Spencer Susser tries hard to work out, and not always with complete success. It's a tough and very messy narrative that runs dangerously close to mawkishness, but for the vicious outbursts of brutality, aggression, and deep-seated emotional pain lying just beneath everyone's surface. Hesher is the catalyst, and fortunately Gordon-Levitt's physical grace is extraordinarily compelling as he pushes and punishes his lithe body in complete commitment to the role. This is a severely damaged soul who's probably beyond redemption himself, but understands that he still has something to give that might be of aid to someone else. As the primary beneficiary of the salvation on offer, Devin Brochu is an impressive little brother-like match as T.J., even as he's constantly exposed to the physical danger that's a by-product of being in proximity to Hesher (kudos to the tiny stunt double who gets tossed around like a rag doll). The rest of the cast do their best to keep up with the bedlam. Rainn Wilson is stretching some little-used actorly muscles as the near-catatonic dad for whom something must change, and Natalie Portman looking positively frumpy as a down-and-out ragamuffin who crosses paths with both T.J. and Hesher seems also to be trying to put a shine on her indie cred. Piper Laurie's turn as the obese, uncomprehending grandmother is a poignant peak in her long career and a character that's integral to the changes everyone else experiences, most especially Hesher himself.