Hesher is a man of few words. And the ones that come out are lewd, inappropriate, quizzical and often disturbing. He is violent; ruled by a general hatred of human kind, and is consequently sociopathic in nature. But in the full-length, directorial debut from short filmmaker Spencer Susser, Hesher provides a superb vehicle for this darkly comical tale of salvation and gratitude.
The story chronicles T.J. (played by Devin Brochu), a late adolescent schoolboy in the throes of a depression stemming from his mother’s death. He and his anti-depressant, pill-popping father (Rainn Wilson) have moved in with T.J.s grandmother (Piper Laurie) to grieve and mourn in an attempt to resume their shattered lives. In addition to the crushing pain of his mother’s death, T.J. is constantly tormented at school, in which he is visibly smaller and obviously out of place.
One day, while biking to school, T.J. has a chance encounter in a new construction home with Hesher, who has decided to squat in the unfinished house. Throughout the remainder of the day, T.J. sees Hesher mulling around his school, acting and looking hostile towards the young protagonist. After and outside the school, during a rather intense encounter with a bully, T.J. is saved by a beautiful passerby (Natalie Portman) who in turn provides T.J. with a ride home.
Hesher follows in a weathered, black van.
Once home, Hesher springs himself on the boy threatening harm, and demanding to do laundry. Mistaken as T.J.s friend, the father and the grandmother are suspiciously accepting of the new acquaintance. Hesher continues to make himself at home (walking around in his undwear, raiding the fridge, jerry-rigging cable and watching porn) eventually settling in the family’s garage. The next day T.J. comes home to find that Hesher has fully insinuated himself into the family’s life by befriending his grandmother. All that T.J. and his already defeated father can do is watch, befuddled, as Hesher conducts a series of unexpected, inexplicable, and highly humourous activities.
The young T.J. begins stalking Nicole (Portman) at her work – in a puppy-love inspired way – but Hesher, who is still following the boy to school, notices T.J.s infatuation. Subsequently Hesher embarrasses T.J. and joins in on the gawking. After Nicole leaves work, the two continue following her, only to witness a fender-bender (which is obviously Nicole’s fault) involving Nicole and a stranger . Hesher quickly comes to the rescue by intimidating the accident’s victim into leaving Nichole alone. Then, an unknowing T.J. and Nicole embark on a rash of capricious, Hesher-inspired crimes. The two, again, can only look on in disbelief of the angry metal-head that has hijacked their lives, leaving bird-droppings of inspiration in the form of twisted analogies and vulgar metaphors.
But don’t mistake the off-beat actions of the greasy-haired Hesher as simply comical, as Hesher is a drama that grows increasingly heavier and heavier throughout. Beautiful acting by Laurie – as the slightly senile grandmother who’s watching her son (and grandson) re-claim his life – and fantastic performances by Wilson – as the emotionally castrated father who is afraid of losing his son – Levitt as a deranged, out-of-control, maelstrom, along with the newcomer Brochu, suck the audience in with this inspirational tale of disappointment, courage, family and optimism. Part Love, Liza and part Harold and Maude, the film makes a bid as a burgeoning cult classic. And though it becomes painfully obvious at times that this is Susser’s freshman, full-length effort, the cult of personality created by Levitt, the stunning acting by the entire cast and the film’s uncomfortably wicked humour makes Hesher a sort of odd, convoluted treasure . . . or train wreck.
Regardless, one can’t help but look on.
*Hesher is available on home video and through Amazon On Demand*