Though Hesher is Spencer Susser’s feature debut, his directing career really began in 2008 with an impressive short film called I Love Sarah Jane. The short drew acclaim from all kinds of festivals and – more importantly – paved the way for his involvement with soon-to-be producer Natalie Portman; Susser sent her Sarah Jane and the script for Hesher, and the multi-talented actress was so impressed she quickly joined the project as a producer and co-star. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rainn Wilson signed on soon after, and Hesher eventually premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
Gordon-Levitt’s lead performance as Hesher is a sight to behold. He’s a long-haired, foul-mouthed anarchist who loves Metallica and blowing stuff up. Hesher feels more like a force than a character; he slices through this movie like a scythe, influencing the actions of a young boy named T.J. (Devin Brochu) who recently lost his mother in a car accident. T.J.’s father (Rainn Wilson) has fallen into a depression – he was the one driving during the accident – and has turned to pills for the answer, but their only effects are inducing sleep and essentially removing all vitality from his life. After Hesher inexplicably moves in to T.J.’s house, the movie turns into a story of a bizarre friendship, a love triangle involving a grocery store cashier (Natalie Portman), and a coming-of-age tale of the difficulties of moving on after a traumatic event.
The film feels like a Sundance movie: melodramatic moments, shouting matches, dimly lit and cheaply furnished sets, and an intimate shooting style all collide to form a movie that is interesting to watch and is perhaps a bit better when digested over the course of a few days. The performances are all very strong, and Gordon-Levitt’s outrageous character will be enough to warrant a watch for his fans, but this is certainly not a movie for everybody. Susser co-wrote Hesher with Animal Kingdom writer/director David Michod, and if you’ve seen that movie, you may notice some of the same sensibilities among these two films. It’s a deliberate movie that has no problem taking its time with its characters, and though Gordon-Levitt is fantastic in it, he’s actually more of a secondary character than T.J., who is front and center with his struggles for the duration. Portman plays a mousy mashup of many characters she’s played before, but in a testament to her considerable talent, I found her performance infinitely charming to watch.
Bottom line? Hesher is a well-executed movie that’s worth checking out if you’re a die-hard JoGo Levitt or Portman fan. It’s a bit slow at parts, but Hesher’s metal moments are enough to make up for the occasional floundering element. I’m actually more interested in Susser’s current attempts to turn his Sarah Jane short into a feature film, so perhaps one day there will be a review of that full-length feature on this site. Until next time…