Note: May contain spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Choosing a single adjective to describe Hesher would be impossible due to its complete off-the-wall, and utterly unpredictable, story. A film like this one prides itself in being weird, quirky, and insane, and this confidence shows for the entire hour and 40 minutes. However, confidence can’t mask an incomplete story and some bland performances, and these are exactly the areas in which Hesher stumbles. With some odd casting choices and a weird final arc, Hesher never really connects the way that it’s supposed to, but it still manages to be enjoyable despite its obvious flaws.
The story follows a young boy, T.J. (Devin Brochu), and his father, Paul (Rainn Wilson). After a car crash leads to the death of T.J.’s mother, both individuals become depressed as they try to cope with the sudden loss. It doesn’t take long before T.J. meets the mysterious Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and pretty soon he takes up residence at T.J.’s home. Completely apathetic to the fact he wasn’t invited, Hesher continues living with the family as they deal with the grieving process. Chaos and mayhem quickly ensue, and the family learns that even someone as strange as Hesher can offer some guidance when the time calls for it.
At first, this narrative seems to be enough to stand on its own, but the writers apparently felt otherwise. In addition to the main story arc, there are arguably two others: the story of Hesher himself, and that of the young grocery story clerk, Nicole (Natalie Portamn). The former would have been intriguing, and even welcome, when paired with T.J. and Paul’s story. Unfortunately, that isn’t what the audience was given. In fact, Hesher’s character never gets explained at all. The viewer never really learns who he is, where he came from, or why he lives life the way he does. He just exists in this world, and we’re forced to accept this as adequate information.
So, instead of delving into the mystery that is the title character, Hesher decides to add a fourth party in the form of Nicole. This young woman, who’s age was never specified, is undoubtedly having a hard time in life. She only works 16 hours a week; she is unable to pay her bills, and her life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. A generic character who can easily be found in most dramas, but she isn’t terrible. My issue, though, is how insignificant and out-of-place she feels in this world. Beyond being the crush of young T.J., Nicole’s purpose in the story is hazy, to say the least. There are no words of wisdom and, like Hesher, she’s just kind of there.
Taking that into consideration, the main story arc is enough to keep things interesting. Everyone handles death differently, and Hesher sympathetically demonstrates the worst symptom: depression. Paul lays on the couch and sleeps all day, and T.J. becomes obsessed with the car his mother died in, which is sitting in the junkyard. The message, if there is one, would definitely be learning to let go. As difficult as it may seem at first, death is a part of life, and allowing yourself to slip into nothingness isn’t the proper way to handle your problems.
The real driving force in this movie, however, is Hesher himself. His dark, mysterious nature makes him instantly attractive, and as a viewer it becomes difficult to take your eyes off him whenever he’s on screen. He’s foul-mouthed, short-tempered, and incomprehensible, but this only adds to his charm. Furthermore, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a total knockout, and I was amazed at how well he got into character. There were multiple instances during the film where I had to remind myself that I was watching JGL and not some other, unknown actor. He was convincing, confident, and a blast to watch.
Unfortunately, the only other standout, in my opinion, was Rainn Wilson, but he was never given an extreme amount of dialogue. Most of his performance came from his passiveness towards life, and I think he did a great job portraying the overwhelming depression that consumes most after death. Brochu, on the other hand, was inconsistent, at best. There were a handful of moments where he truly impressed me, but a majority of the time I found his performance to be embarrassingly flat. Portman wasn’t anything to write home about, either. In addition to having an out-of-place character, her performance felt uninspired, and she always seemed confused as to why she was even there.
Overall Score: 6.9/10 - Insanely unpredictable, and a little difficult to digest, Hesher's comedic take on death and sorrow manages to be both entertaining and incredibly ridiculous. Unfortunately, the writers ignored the prospect of explaining Hesher's character, and opted to include Nicole instead. With an inconsistent story and some bland performances, Hesher never manages to live up to its potential, but it is fun in its own, unique way. It’s at least worth the rental if it piqued your interest.