By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin May 13, 2011 at 7:12AM
Some indie films seem to exist as exercises in strangeness, just to see how far they can go—and how long audiences will watch before screaming and running up the aisles. I stuck with Hesher till the bitter end, but I’m not proud of that achievement and wouldn’t recommend that anyone follow my lead.
I was curious about the film primarily because it features Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an exceptionally talented actor who, since leaving the hit TV series 3rd Rock from the Sun, has made daring and unusual choices. Here he plays a repellent, antisocial character named Hesher who moves in with a—
—grief-stricken family and figuratively gooses them to life. I say “figuratively,” but in fact the profane, wildly tattooed Hesher has no self-limitations on behavior or language. He’s borderline funny at times, except he inflict genuine pain and discomfort on everyone around him.
An unsubtle music cue accompanies his arrival on the scene, letting us know that he’s meant to be an over-the-top figure in this heavy-handed, metaphoric story and we’re supposed to be in on the joke. But the film has a split personality, and that’s a problem it never surmounts. The characters played by young Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson, and Piper Laurie are heartbreakingly real, and desperately trying to come to grips with the loss of Wilson’s wife, Brochu’s mom.
The prolific Natalie Portman is good, as usual, playing a luckless woman who comes into the lives of the vulnerable boy and Hesher, too. She also served as one of the film’s producers.
Director and co-writer Spencer Susser (who co-wrote the screenplay with Animal Kingdom’s David Michôd, and illustrated the scatological closing credits) seems to be saying that one should say f*** you to life’s slings and arrows and live like a hellion. At least, I think that’s what he’s trying to say; I don’t intend to spend any further effort pondering the question. I already wasted 100 minutes watching this self-consciously weird, pretentious film.