movie review: HESHER

Some indie films seem to exist as exercises in strangeness, just to see how far they can go—and how long audiences will watch before screaming and running up the aisles. I stuck with Hesher till the bitter end, but I’m not proud of that achievement and wouldn’t recommend that anyone follow my lead.

I was curious about the film primarily because it features Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an exceptionally talented actor who, since leaving the hit TV series 3rd Rock from the Sun, has made daring and unusual choices. Here he plays a repellent, antisocial character named Hesher who moves in with a—

—grief-stricken family and figuratively gooses them to life. I say “figuratively,” but in fact the profane, wildly tattooed Hesher has no self-limitations on behavior or language. He’s borderline funny at times, except he inflict genuine pain and discomfort on everyone around him.

An unsubtle music cue accompanies his arrival on the scene, letting us know that he’s meant to be an over-the-top figure in this heavy-handed, metaphoric story and we’re supposed to be in on the joke. But the film has a split personality, and that’s a problem it never surmounts. The characters played by young Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson, and Piper Laurie are heartbreakingly real, and desperately trying to come to grips with the loss of Wilson’s wife, Brochu’s mom.

The prolific Natalie Portman is good, as usual, playing a luckless woman who comes into the lives of the vulnerable boy and Hesher, too. She also served as one of the film’s producers.

Director and co-writer Spencer Susser (who co-wrote the screenplay with Animal Kingdom’s David Michôd, and illustrated the scatological closing credits) seems to be saying that one should say f*** you to life’s slings and arrows and live like a hellion. At least, I think that’s what he’s trying to say; I don’t intend to spend any further effort pondering the question. I already wasted 100 minutes watching this self-consciously weird, pretentious film.


  1. Nonyerbidness says:

    A film by an overgrown adolescent, for adolescents, as is clear by the quality of the comments.

  2. Matt says:

    Wow, talk about not getting it. Hesher is a great film. It is an allegory, and Hesher's character is not meant to be taken completely literally. (Look up 'allegory' in a dictionary if you are too ignorant to understand literary devices.) Some of the comments here show either complete ignorance of what was happening in the movie, or perhaps they didn't watch the movie at all. The movie is not about wallowing in misery. Actually, the ("pretentious") message in the movie is the exact opposite of wallowing in misery.

    Lise's comment below best describes the message of the film. I find it interesting that the reviews I've read haven't mentioned the character of the grandmother. Really, the movie is just as much about the grandmother as it is about Hesher.

  3. AlxD says:

    Random thought: Do you think the reason you hated this movie is because the “depressed guy” was represented by the very same beard that you have?

  4. AlexD says:

    Immensely amused by how the ‘old people’ really didn’t get this movie, or get Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character.

    1) People like Hesher DO exist. Anarchic societal dropouts (and not necessarily psychopathic, as Hesher is not)
    2) I was consistently entertained by this movie. The slow bits don’t last long and the Hesher moments of insanity are very entertaining.
    3) “seems to be saying that one should say f*** you to life’s slings and arrows and live like a hellion.” – this amused me the most. It’s as if that message or even the thought of that message insults you so much; you’re so happy being the repressed well groomed beard boring-smiley-face tan shirt blowhard that you are, that even the mere concept of a more fun life fills you with resentment and a subtle unnerving rage. Funnily enough, that’s NOT what this movie was trying to say at all. What this movie was getting at, was that sometimes in life, we just need to be woken up. Sometimes periods of insanity need to be shaken up with extreme prejudice.

    I feel sorry for you well-groomed-beard-man. Too much time meandering in church groups to experience life.

    ~ AlxD

  5. Alex says:

    sometimes you have to be self-consciously weird!

  6. Wanda says:

    I watch a lot of movies and I found this one to be so stupid I tortured myself to watch it to the end.Come on really some freak like that shows up in your house and you don’t call the police and let him stay with you? That right there was stupid and it only got stupider as the movie went on. Blow up a car with gas? Wow COOL! Talk like a filthy pervert? Wow COOL! Have a huge tattoo of giving the finger on your back? Wow cool! Break into a house and throw their stuff in the pool and set it on fire! Wow COOL! Thats how the movie goes spoiler alert. Don’t want to give away any of the moronic plot

  7. nicole says:

    I couldn’t agree more – had to talk myself down from walking out on the movie. It was so excruciatingly painful to watch and the depressed family’s back story so contrived – one of the worst films I’ve ever had the displeasure to come across.

  8. Mike says:

    Terrible review. Very interesting watch.. very unpredictable character which gave it more appeal to see where the movie would take you next.

    Have to agree with Lise about the car crash scene.. wasn’t necessary..

    Definitely recommend it, something different to the normal rubbish that is spilling out these days.

  9. Charles says:

    One thing I would not call this film pretentious and it’s definitely not telling anyone to go be a hellion.

    Hesher is a one dimensional character, and people like him do exist. This troubled, reckless kid is essentially the most grounded person in their time of grief. It simply shows the depth of grief caused by death and the irrational nature of it. The fact this kid made it into their family setting attests to that.

    Maltin apparently heard rock music and saw pot smoking and zoned out. The metaphors are ridiculously basic and absurd. The point or message of the film is simple. I think Maltin thinks so highly of himself he refuses to acknowledge any point made from a homeless rocker, fictional or not, no matter how simple or honest the point is.

  10. Lise says:

    This movie isn’t at all about wallowing in pain, and if you got that out of this review, then that means the review is deeply flawed. Hesher’s a dark comedy that is not mainly about it’s title character, but about his effect on a little boy – and it’s uplifting, actually, as dark as it is, because the entire message is “move on, even though terrible things happen, because there are good things left and you should appreciate them.” I’m not pulling this out of thin air; Hesher delivers a speech that says the above, in more amusing words.

    This movie is fantastically hilarious, and often crude (and the crude parts are not the fantastically hilarious parts, by the way), and the actors are great in it, and the only cliched part in it is the flashback to the death of the mother (as it did not need to be portrayed, and implying it would have been a far better choice).

    (And by the way I too have known people like Hesher, and they are more realistic than TJ was in this movie.)

  11. Pete2 says:

    Obviously Maltin is a schtick for linear and often cliched films. I saw the movie and have to say that it was a very interesting concept to combine humor with sadness. Maltin completely misses the point and acts as if Hesher isn’t a person who exists. I’ve met people like Hesher and to show a film with a realistic character who doesn’t abide by society is very encouraging. I highly recommend this film for those who like obscure things… it’s not for those who want to see your typical romantic comedy with the likes of Vince Vaughn or Jennifer Anniston.

  12. Arthur says:

    To Justin, pretentious means to award something greater importance than it merits. I have not seen the film but clearly Leonard feels this is true. Also Travis, it is possible for a movie to have good performances but still not be a good film, just see Postcards From The Edge for example.

  13. Justin says:

    For someone with so many published pages under his belt, it’s a shame that you don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “pretentious,” especially considering you effectively summarized the basic premise of the film just a few words prior. The film never purports to deliver a message beyond the hardy f-you of it all, and the fact that message does not agree with you is a poor excuse for you to toss out a generic and empty insult more befitting a thesaurus-deprived grad student.

  14. Pete says:

    Thanks for your considered review-going by it, “Hesher” seems to be a film about wallowing in your misery, which is sometimes quite understandable in life, but isn’t a feeling anyone should ideally and healthily continue in. I guess I’ll give this movie a miss and avoid the smoke a joint forever line. I’d like to know if “Hesher” is realistic or phony because there are people who wallow in pain and can’t find a way out. I hope the film didn’t bomb out and make a serious issue into something which isn’t believable.

  15. tantalum says:

    Insightful review.

  16. Jason says:

    Good to know. I’ll admit I’m curious to see anything with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in it. Thanks for the heads-up to avoid this one.

  17. Travis says:

    You sir are awful. If you are going to write a review on how you didn’t like the movie how about you not praise the actors for how good they did.

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