Psychosocial, by Jack Fleischer
Take away all the accoutrements, and Hesher is a very simple movie. It’s the story of how a fragmented family unit is saved by the odd and outrageous antics of a misfit that happens to stumble into their lives … and that’s about it. This is not a bad movie, but it seems to lack an element of complexity. There are some very funny scenes, but if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve already seen 90% of them.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great turn here as the title character, an odd headbanger who’s a loner and a stoner, and a mystery. Yet, this movie is not his story, he’s merely the catalyst. He’s wild, obscene, and completely unrestrained by taste or tact, yet in the grand tradition of indie cinema, he also manages to be the wisest one in the room. I wouldn’t say that this is a stock character, or even a cliche — but it was hard for me not to feel like I’d seen this guy before. That’s not a bad thing, but it isn’t particularly challenging.
Then again, what audience doesn’t want a “challenging comedy?”
The Hesher character is very funny. JGL gives him a great physical presence, and as a result I’d love to see more physical comedy roles for him. Add to this, Hesher has a hilarious speech at the climax that finally reveals a bit of the mysterious backstory. It happens to be one of the two best moments in the film, (the other being a “bedroom” scene with Piper Laurie), but even with these great scenes we never really get an explanation of just who the hell this guy is.
To continue with my vacillation on this review, keeping Hesher a mysterious stranger may not be a bad thing. Perhaps Hesher as allegory is exactly what director/co-writer Spencer Susser was aiming at. It’s art, dammit!
The problem is that the rest of the characters are kinda’ flat. Rainn Wilson, Natalie Portman, and Devin Brochu (In the Valley of Elah, Rubber) all do amazing work. The first two play way against type (successfully so), and Devin’s performance is pretty seamless. He probably has a good career ahead of him.
Yet all they’re doing is playing sad. Everyone is so very sad and lonely. Hesher’s character stands out in stark relief, first because he’s crazy, but secondly because he’s the only character who has a natural range.
This is not a bad movie, and what I find aggravating is that in the end I don’t really care what happens. It all seems pre-ordained even if it is clever. It’s hard to put my finger on what it is that’s missing … but I’d say that this movie reads like vanilla ice cream. Vanilla is fine, but it is just vanilla.
Maybe I just don’t like sad people. Or maybe I hate vanilla.
Anyway, I’d say the movie boils down to some great actors inhabiting bland roles, with one spicy performance from JGL. Maybe they’re saving the juicy Hesher backstory for a sequel?
At the very least I would totally say it’s worth a matinee admission. Go and see it, and tell me what it is that I just don’t get.