Wednesday, May 11, 2011

HESHER: Gordon-Levitt's a grungy mentor in Spencer Susser's naughty/funny film

One of the first things we see in HESHER -- the relatively new movie that has been on-tap since last year's Sundance festival -- is a boy on his bike (below) following a tow truck as it travels around town and into a garage. The kid then climbs into the wrecked car that the truck has been towing and goes to sleep. This is just odd enough to peak our interest. Who's the kid and what's the significance of that car? We find this out, over time, along with a lot of other stuff that also proves interesting.

Whether all of it hangs together and achieves the right tone, however, is something that TrustMovies suspects will divide audiences. He enjoyed the film for the most part -- enough, in fact, to forgive its very odd combination of aberrant grunge, transgressive behavior and unforced-but-still-present sentimentality that rears up throughout and then, all stops out, closes the movie.

Taking off from a story credited to Brian Charles Frank, the film has been directed and co-writen (with Animal Kingdom's David Michôd!) by Spencer Susser, shown at left -- who himself looks a bit like a hunky Hesher-in-training (or maybe a post-rehab version). Hesher combines the coming-of-age genre (child and adult versions) and a dealing-with-grief scenario. Into this mix is tossed the title character, played by the versatile and talented actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, below: a homeless young man who is by turns aggressive and helpful but always pretty frightening.  Dirty, dope-smoking, emblazoned with tattoos that look homemade and given to violence and fire-starting at a moment's notice, this guy's some treat.

That boy on the bike (Devin Brochu), it turns out, is part of a grieving family that includes his depressed dad (Rainn Wilson, below, left) and smart, feisty grandmother (no, not Betty White). Instead it's a very well-used Piper Laurie, who adds immeasurably to the film's reality and gravity. The how and why Hesher moves in with this family might strain credibility (more that it already does) were not the performances all first-rate and the writing and direction interesting enough to keep us with the movie.

Oh, yes -- and there's also another important character here, the supermarket clerk who comes to double as surrogate mom for the boy and love interest for Hesher. As played -- very well -- by Natalie Portman, below (does a week go by without another Portman performance upon us? Last Friday: Thor!), this character (Nicole) helps give the film its timeliness regarding our ailing-unto-death economy.

As the film rolls along, dual threats of accelerating violence and sentimentality crop up, and the movie does a pretty good job of handling this tension -- making it more pleasurable than not. Whether you'll buy the finale, which offers a combination of feel-good with necessary loss, I don't know. It worked for me because it leaves our fractured family at a point at which they can move on. But Hesher himself? I wonder...

From Newmarket Films, the movie opens Friday, May 13, in a fairly wide limited run. Go to the film's web site and then click on Where can I see Hesher? to view a list of theaters and cities.

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