By Edward Davis | The Playlist January 24, 2011 at 3:44AM
A debut film, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival starring Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "The Office" comedian Rainn Wilson and John Carroll Lynch. If that's not the ideal foundations of an indie-hit in the making, we're not sure what is. Only it wasn't.
Australian filmmaker Spencer Susser's "Hesher" benefited from loud pre-Sundance buzz in January of 2010, because of its great cast, provocative early photos, a solid-sounding logline and the possibility of seeing Joseph Gordon Levitt play an idle and troubled lay-about stoner known as Hesher. But when the film finally debuted in Park City, it hit a brick wall of negative to mixed reviews -- the criterati almost collectively perturbed that this promise landed with an unfulfilled thud. The New York Times calls the scenario a cautionary tale of buzz run amok -- which is both accurate and unfair, a picture shouldn't be penalized for buzz that's partly not even self-generated.
Either way, "Hesher" was bought up days later by Newmarket Films, but has languished for over a year without hitting theaters because of what appears to be internal politics. Newmarket chief Chris Ball left the company to form his own, and at one point IndieWire said the release would be a joint venture between Newmarket and Ball's Wrekin Hill Entertainment. This deal would never come to pass, but Wrekin Hill has now independently acquired back rights to the drama and will release the film this April. Wrekin Hill is surely hoping that a Portman Best Actress win at the Oscars will help spur more interest in the pic.
"Hesher" centers on a teenager (newcomer Devin Brochu) and his father (Wilson) who are forced to move in with the boy's grandmother (Piper Laurie) after the sudden and tragic death of their mother/wife. A young man with a troubled past named Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) assumes the role as both mentor and tormentor, while a young grocery clerk (Natalie Portman) steps in to protect the teenager, and becomes the object of his fantasies. Susser is known for a 2008 zombie short film titled "I Love Sarah Jane." You can watch it below.