Hesher

>> Saturday, January 23, 2010


U.S. Dramatic Competition. Official description:
Hesher is the story of a family struggling to deal with loss and the anarchist who helps them do it—in a very unexpected way.

TJ is 13 years old. Two months ago, his mom was killed in an accident, leaving TJ and his grieving dad to move in with grandma to pick up the pieces. Hesher is a loner. He hates the world—and everyone in it. He has long, greasy hair and homemade tattoos. He likes fire and blowing things up. He lives in his van—until he meets TJ.

Hesher is that rare film that manages to be a completely original vision, a thoroughly entertaining story, and a provocative metaphor. Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings the character of Hesher to life with anger and angst, and Devin Brochu makes quite a splash as the young boy dealing with both the loss of his mother and an unwanted houseguest. Cowriter/director Spencer Susser crafts a multidimensional, darkly humorous film that exhibits an immensely talented storyteller at work.
Yeah, that description didn't help much in determining whether I would like it or not. I picked this solely based on the cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman. I figured they tend to pick interesting projects, so it would be worth it. After all, I plunked down $15 to see this; although, if anything, it is nice to see something that is competing in an actual category.

This is the first Sundance film I've seen in Ogden. I saw New Jersey Drive fifteen years ago at the Tower Theater in SLC. Um, that was kind of a wretched experience. This was much, much better. I got there about a half an hour before the show started. The Egyptian seats 800, so I didn't know if I would have to fight for parking. I skipped the pay lot directly behind the theater and parked a block away in the mall parking lot. Why pay $4 for parking when I can park for free and stretch my legs a bit.

The Egyptian is such a nice theater. That interior always wows me. They had an organist playing until the movie started. Totally gave an old time feel. The showing wasn't sold out. A few rows in the front had plenty of seats. I'd say it was about 97% full.

A few of my photos were a little bit blurry. I felt a little weird taking a camera, but when I walked in there were plenty of other people taking pictures of the theater.

The film itself?

Well, I have seen weirder films for sure. It is definitely an unconventional, bizarre film. Bizarre not in structure but in mood, which is constantly changing yet matches the 13-year-old main character, TJ. I'm sorry, but he doesn't look 13 to me. He looks like he's 12. He's definitely supposed to be small for his age. If he wasn't, then his schoolyard bully wouldn't be able to persistently terrorize him.

There are parts of this that are extremely funny. Parts that are sad. And parts that make you go WTF? The parts of Hesher pulling off some stunt are the best parts, and they happen to be some genuinely funny bits. Hesher, the character, is a total...well, I'm not sure what the best word is to describe him. Live-wire? I wouldn't call him a freak, because there seems to be a method to the "madness." The description calls him an anarchist, which I suppose is true, but he clearly adores Grandma. Dude tells Grandma that smoking pot via a bong is the healthiest way to smoke it. I have no idea if that's true, but if it is...really?

From a review on /Film:
The story follows a 13-year-old kid named T.J. who is living in his elderly Grandmother’s house, along with his depressed pill popping out-of-work father (Wilson). The death of TJ’s mother hit his father very hard, yet TJ seems unaffected, and confused/embarrassed of his father’s emotion-filled state. Through a series of events, TJ meets a young man named Hesher (Levitt), a long haired tattooed head-banging badass, who inserts himself unwillingly into T.J.’s life. The uninvited house guest torments the young teenager while also assuming the role of a troubled mentor. But Hesher is only one of three or four bullies in T.J.’s life. The subplot of the film involves TJ’s relationship with a young grocery story clerk named Nicole (Portman) who saved him during an attack in the store’s parking lot, and becomes the object of TJ’s fantasies. If the plot sounds like it is all over the place, that’s because it is.
True. It goes all over the place. But I wouldn't say TJ is "unaffected." He can't let go of the car his mother died in. If he was "unaffected," then that entire subplot wouldn't exist. I wouldn't call it a "'traveling angel' story" either. Hesher clearly benefits by becoming a member of the household, primarily by hanging out with Grandma. If it's all over the place, it's because the characters are all over the place--the father who can't cope with anything, the kid who is preoccupied by a junked car, his tormentor and a possible mommy-replacement, and an "anarchist" who is just doing whatever whenever.

After all the WTF moments layered into it, as I walked away I felt like I viewed a cinematic form of catharsis. Would I recommend it? Yeah, but it's probably suited towards cinematic adventurers. As I was exiting, I saw a lady who rated it a "fair" on her ballot. Pretty harsh for a film that got a lot of laughs from the audience. And I really do mean A LOT.

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