Arts & Events

Indie release “Hesher” falls flat despite outstanding cast

The film was screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and released to select theaters this spring with virtually no advertising or promotion.

I’m a self-proclaimed film critic, so when I heard that “Hesher,” a 2010 independent film, starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman and Rainn Wilson as a borderline psychotic metalhead, a grocery store clerk and a grieving father, I knew I’d have to watch it.

Now that I’ve seen it I almost wish I hadn’t.

I’ll start with the good: “Hesher” is an engaging, well-paced movie from start to finish.

Gordon-Levitt plays the title role, Hesher, an out-of-control and apparently homeless high school student who drives a beat-up black van and whose CD collection is composed entirely of Metallica.

Portman takes on the role of Nicole, a broke 20-something who lives on her own and doesn’t seem to have much in the way of friends or family.

Wilson, an unshaven and severely depressed widow who is trying to cope with the recent loss of his wife, is father to the silent protagonist of the film, TJ.

Watching Gordon-Levitt and Wilson perform in roles so dramatically different than what we’re used to was great.

Wilson pulls off serious so well that it’s hard to believe he plays Dwight Schrute in “The Office.”

Gordon-Levitt, who I’m so used to seeing act the tragic lover, pulls off hardcore punk with ease, and every scene he’s in is at the very least interesting.

Natalie Portman does her best Taylor Swift impersonation and tries to be a dork, but she’s not fooling anybody when she says things like, “Sometimes I think if I died no one would even notice!”

Sorry Natalie, Nicole, whatever; I don’t buy it.

Let’s get on with the bad.

“Hesher” has a heart, but it’s about 10 sizes too small.

It revolves around TJ, a preteen boy who for some reason goes to high school with Hesher. He is bullied by an older student and falls in love with Nicole after she rescues him.

Through all of this TJ is guided along by Hesher, who helps him exact revenge on his bully, puts him in a “romantic” situation with Nicole (which is expectedly awkward, but for all the wrong reasons), and smokes a bong with his grandma (it’s medical).

When TJ’s grandma dies of natural causes, Hesher provides a drunken motivational speech which rejuvenates TJ’s father and brings the two closer together.  With his long hair and extreme awesomeness, Hesher almost becomes TJ’s own personal Jesus.

Unfortunately TJ is stricken with a disease called pensiveness, or perhaps teen angst, or maybe it’s just puberty, and as a result he rarely says anything besides, “I don’t know,” “Leave me alone” or an occasional (and emphatic) “F*** you!”

It’s rather unlucky that he’s the focal point of every nearly every scene, because, to be quite honest, he hardly qualifies as a character.

Throughout the film, TJ’s goal is to buy a smashed up red car from a junkyard.

The movie doesn’t explain why until the very end (it’s the car his mother died in), but the revelation is so painfully obvious that I couldn’t help but laugh during what should have been a very touching scene.

As the movie ends, TJ, his father and Hesher all finally go on a walk with the deceased grandma, which amounts to rolling a casket around town.

It would have been a beautiful moment, but the “town” it gets rolled around in is downtown Los Angeles, and again I found myself laughing.

When reviewing movies I always ask myself, “Would I recommend this to a friend?” “Hesher,” I would not.

If you want to see Rainn Wilson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt perform well in strange new roles, the movie is enjoyable enough to warrant a watch, but if you’re looking for real quality, you’d best look elsewhere.