Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
How Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez Made Josh Brolin's 'No Country For Old Men' Audition Tape How Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez Made Josh Brolin's 'No Country For Old Men' Audition Tape 'MacGyver' Movie Reboot And New TV Series Pilot On The Way 'MacGyver' Movie Reboot And New TV Series Pilot On The Way Josh Brolin Says He's Starring With Jessica Chastain In A Movie About George Jones & Tammy Wynette Josh Brolin Says He's Starring With Jessica Chastain In A Movie About George Jones & Tammy Wynette Watch: Robert Richardson Explains Why He Took His Name Off 'World War Z' And More In 58-Minute Cinematographer Talk Watch: Robert Richardson Explains Why He Took His Name Off 'World War Z' And More In 58-Minute Cinematographer Talk George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & More Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & More

SXSW Review: Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Natalie Portman Can't Save The Oddly Off 'Hesher'

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist March 14, 2011 at 5:20AM

In the immortal words of C&C Music Factory, "Hesher," a dark comedy/drama concoction from co-writer/director Spencer Susser, is very much a thing that makes you go "hmmmm." This might not be a bad thing (to tell you the truth we're still parsing through our thoughts on the film), but it certainly exists – it's the kind of movie you're thinking about days after you've seen it, whether you want to or not.
1


In the immortal words of C&C Music Factory, "Hesher," a dark comedy/drama concoction from co-writer/director Spencer Susser, is very much a thing that makes you go "hmmmm." This might not be a bad thing (to tell you the truth we're still parsing through our thoughts on the film), but it certainly exists – it's the kind of movie you're thinking about days after you've seen it, whether you want to or not.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as the titular character, a kind of shamanistic wanderer (or "tramp") whose life intersects with a very troubled family. Hesher loves heavy metal, cigarettes, and fucking shit up. That's about all we know about him. And yet we're supposed to invest a kind of mythical importance in his mere presence (Levitt sports scummy, shoulder-length hair and crudely illustrated tattoos), even though he lends little to the movie, in a narrative or tonal sense, beyond a "fuck you" attitude.


The movie begins with an elliptical scene, as we follow a smashed-up car being towed away to an impound lot and the young boy (Devin Brochu) racing after the car. We understand that there's been some kind of severe, personal trauma involved in the car, but we aren't sure what, exactly, has happened. More things become clear when the young boy (whose name is TJ) returns home – his father (Rainn Wilson, more dramatic than funny) is popping pills and laid up on the couch, while his grandmother (Piper Laurie) tries to hold the family together, even though she's not all there in the head.

Natalie Portman, for reasons that still aren't clear to this reviewer, co-stars as a young, aimless supermarket clerk who befriends TJ after intervening in a fight between the boy and a schoolyard bully. (Portman also produced the film, go figure.) She ends up becoming the twisted love interest to not only TJ but also Hesher.

Hesher, as a character, seems to have been conceived with a keen eye towards crafting a screen persona that would be really cool. And as Hesher, Jospeh Gordon-Levitt does imbue the character with some amount of charismatic swagger, but otherwise, he's just a crude, crass, unwashed, and unsympathetic jerk who inserts himself into this deeply troubled family's life and doesn't have the good sense (or self-consciousness) to dislodge himself. He curses, he farts, he sets things on fire (like the bully's car and, bafflingly, a diving board), he steals cable and, in the end, he tries for dimensionality and depth, but all that ever comes across is a hard rock cipher.

This might be because the movie feels so cloyingly indie-movie-ish in the most annoying way possible – it's composed of a largely autumnal color scheme, shot in jittery hand-held, and takes its main stylistic cues (when concerning production design and set dressing) from the 1970s. To boil this down: it's the kind of movie where characters wear large, oversized old timey glasses. That kind of movie.

Which isn't to say that the movie is totally hopeless; there's a scope to the ambition of the film that is genuinely admirable, if not exactly successful. There seems to have been an attempt by the filmmakers (the film was co-written by David Michod, who was responsible for last year's sprawling Melbourne crime drama "Animal Kingdom") to try and push exactly how unlikeable and miserable a character they could create (and then later ask for an audience to invest in). It's kind of a cool dare, but it never really coheres to create anything memorable or worthwhile.

Maybe if the characters had drive beyond "doing whatever;" maybe if the plot had been equipped with some kind of dramatic engine; maybe if the movie was so self-aware, so styled to be talked about. But unfortunately it is all of those things; which equals a movie that's just not-very-good.

More than anything, it's just a loose collection of clichés (the dead mother! the aimless, beautiful young girl!) and plot contrivances (the bully!) that can't hang together or overcome the movie's general feeling of oddly displaced aimlessless.

In the end, "Hesher" is the type of movie that rubs you the wrong way and puzzles you in certain ways where you can't tell if the filmmakers are being emotionally engaging or stimulating… or just plain annoying. And about the time you've made up your mind about the movie, it will shift again, either tonally or in the course of the narrative, which only gives you another reason to ask yourself -- WTF? Or maybe better yet: who cares? [C+]

This article is related to: Films, Actors, Actresses, Review, Spencer Susser, Rainn Wilson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hesher, SXSW Film Festival


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates