10 August 2011

HESHER- Review

As Paul McGann once snarked, human beings are always seeing patterns in things that aren't there. Still, the fact remains that the second film I'm reviewing this week features a son trying to get over the death of his mother and reconnect with his grieving father. Then again, that's where the comparison between Super 8 and Hesher ends. Abrams' film held Spielbergian family flicks in high esteem, while this one owes more to Mary Poppins.

The aforementioned son is TJ, a depressed and reclusive young boy who lives with his father and grandmother. One day, in a fit of frustration, he smashes the window of an abandoned house and inadvertently unearths Hesher, an unkempt hardass metalhead. Hesher, now homeless after being chased from his squat, ingratiates himself in TJ's broken home by literally just walking in like he owns the place. But unexpectedly, he has some life lessons to teach his reluctant housemate.

I believe Hesher is of a similar mould to Mary Poppins, and later, Uncle Buck, in as much as it is a story about a family's problems being solved by a benevolent outsider who arrives in their home and fixes their lives. In the case of this film however, the outsider comes in the unlikely shape of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as a terse and grungy son of a bitch who wanders around shirtless, displaying what look like self-drawn tattoos of stick figures and angry faces. Julie Andrews, he ain't.

Handily, the audacity of this spin on a slightly familiar story sustains Hesher for its 106 minute running time. For Gordon-Levitt, this is one of those characters I'm always happy to see handed down to good actors. Distinctive from anything else he's done before and, unless they decide this one merits a sequel, anything he'll do in the future. And he has a blast with it, as a thoroughly ornery anti-hero who borders on sociopathic while still being fundamentally helpful. And so those 106 minutes fly by as he interacts with the rest of the cast.

Devin Brochu's TJ is exasperated in all the right ways as Hesher lands him in trouble with his bully at school, again and again. It's the equivalent of watching an adult teach a child to swim by flinging him into a pool with a shark or some other underwater menace. Repeatedly. In a surprisingly touching way, Hesher's closest relationship is with Madeleine, TJ's grandmother, played by Piper Laurie. There are a couple of really cute scenes between those two actors that really help you to go with the title character's dubious methods.

Rainn Wilson has less to do with Hesher as TJ's father, but he gives his second stellar performance on the trot. Once again in serious mode after Super, he plays TJ's father Paul in a way that advances his fledgling portfolio as a formidable dramatic actor. The other disparate link is Natalie Portman's character, Nicole. If anyone else is feeling Portman-fatigue at this point in 2011, this one's not going to help one bit. Still, it's a better role than she's had in any of her other non-Black Swan projects this year.

Like a couple of other indie-cred films I've seen lately, Hesher is rough and abrasive on the outside, but essentially good natured. It's a great showcase for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who will hopefully continue to pick his projects as sensibly as he has thus far. On his way to mega-stardom, and more directly, a role in The Dark Knight Rises next summer, this would seem like an odd choice of film, until you see how much fun he has with it. It's a black comedy done right, with enough of the spirit of Mary Poppins in there to keep it grounded. It's definitely unusual and enjoyable enough to merit a watch whenever it eventually hits the UK.

Hesher is, as yet, unscheduled for a UK release- I will post again when I know more.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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