For some reason, many of the films I caught at SXSW dealt with putting a brave face on coping with grief or loss.
"Hesher" is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
"Hesher" is writer/director Spencer Susser’s first feature, and tells the story of a young boy named TJ (Devin Brochu) as he is bullied at school and dealing with his depressed father (Rainn Wilson) while coping with the loss of his mother. While acting out, TJ accidentally upsets the temporary home of a Metal-head transient named “Hesher” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who then decides that he should be living with TJ’s family since TJ put him out of a home.
What follows is an extremely competent dramedy. We’ve seen this plot many times before, random stranger enters someone’s life, upsets the apple cart, and we all learn a valuable lesson at the end. However, I’m unable to recall a film this hectic in tone. Moments of sincere drama are interrupted by genuinely funny set ups, and light hearted moments can stray into some fairly dark territory. I get the feeling that Susser is intentionally playing a cat and mouse game with us, and we’re the mouse.
A perfect example of this is in Hesher’s “free-spiritedness” which consistently starts out as playful, fun, and distracting, but eventually goes to far, gets dark, and typically ends up as a case of arson. The surrounding characters on screen perfectly mirrored the audience I was with in their discomfort...
Performances across the board are incredible. Brochu’s TJ is wonderfully honest and accessible, Portman’s frumpy (yet sexy) down on her luck cashier is radiantly simple, and you can tell Joseph Gordan-Levitt is enjoying every second of his time as the metal-head. Stand out supporting performances by John Carrol Lynch (one of my fave character actors) and Piper Laurie help ground this cast and screenplay. Of note is Rainn Wilson’s performance. The man does wacky well, but I was not only satisfied by his dramatic turn in this flick, but impressed. I really wasn’t expecting this from him and was pleasantly surprised.
Also of note is the film’s soundtrack, which is almost exclusively early Metallica, and for a film this modest, stands as another coup for this new director.
What we have at the end of the day is an extremely solid first film effort which, outside of a few thematic issues, is eminently watchable and enjoyable. I hope to see more from this director soon, and I hope this is a film you don’t miss.