Friday, May 20, 2011

Hesher: An absurdly fun movie

Hesher, B+

by Brandon Isaacson

Description from Sundance 2010:

Hesher is the story of a family struggling to deal with loss and the anarchist who helps them do it— in a very unexpected way.
TJ is 13 years old. Two months ago, his mom was killed in an accident, leaving TJ and his grieving dad to move in with grandma to pick up the pieces. Hesher is a loner. He hates the world—and everyone in it. He has long, greasy hair and homemade tattoos. He likes fire and blowing things up. He lives in his van— until he meets TJ.
Hesher is that rare film that manages to be a completely original vision, a thoroughly entertaining story, and a provocative metaphor. Joseph Gordon Levitt brings the character of Hesher to life with anger and angst, and Devin Brochu makes quite a splash as the young boy dealing with both the loss of his mother and an unwanted houseguest. Cowriter/director Spencer Susser crafts a multidimensional, darkly humorous film that exhibits an immensely talented storyteller at work.

(All expletives in this review are not only relevant, they’re necessary.)

Hesher is a bad ass fucking movie. While it definitely has dramatic shortcomings, it’s the kind of fun summer movie I’ve been waiting for. If you’re sick of seeing the same old shit (super hero movies, cutesy animated sequels, etc) this is a great time.
I think you can decide if you want to see this movie from the trailer. Would you see a movie in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer, Inception), shirtless and showing off his homemade tattoos, oils up and ignites a diving board which he jumps off while singing Metallica’s “Jump In The Fire*?” If not, I definitely don’t recommend seeing it, as you really need to buy into the absurdity of the situation to enjoy yourself (which I most definitely did).

Director Spencer Susser has a strange and distinct view, as seen in his weird Sundance zombie short I Love Sarah Jane (starring Mia Wasikawska). Susser’s vision is supported significantly by a masterful cast and crew, including the Levitt, recent Oscar winner Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson (Dwight from The Office), and child lead Devin Brochu (also in I Love Sarah Jane and Cannes 2010 favorite Rubber). The film is co-written by David Michod, writer/director behind last year’s critically beloved Australian drama Animal Kingdom. The big surprise however, is cinematographer Morgan Pierre Susser. Morgan P Susser’s elegant camera movements and keen affection for the characters allows for the necessary balance between absurdity and reality.

All in all, Hesher is quite simply a dude, presumably with a dark history, who doesn’t give a fuck. By putting him alongside TJ’s situation, Susser suggests that sometimes we need to stop taking life so seriously, just laugh, say fuck it and do some crazy shit. Maybe it’s not at the extreme of breaking into someone’s backyard and trashing their pool, but it can still be small things like skipping work to spend time with someone you love every once in awhile.

The one major thing that disappointed me about the film is that Susser didn’t take full advantage of Metallica’s songs. They’re thrown in the film but not in a manner that’s distinctly entertaining, provocative or fun. He had an opportunity to do something special, as the character of Hesher is actually inspired by legendary former Metallica bassist Cliff Burton. That being said, I think it was an excellent and extremely accurate character detail to have Hesher as a Metallica fan. While he shows the anger and carelessness commonly associated with all metal, he also shows the sweet heart and potent emotion present in many Metallica songs. **

This movie is definitely not an A quality film, as it has a lot of issues with tonal shifts, and plausibility. However, I’m still in love with it. I had an extremely fun time, and it didn’t have to come from $100 million of car crashes or ridiculously quick editing. It came from a distinct vision, and passionate collaborators.

Check out the trailer here:


*In the trailer, Metallica’s “Battery” is played. They play Jump In The Fire in the actual scene.

** Being a fan of some metal (especially 1986 thrash), I’m well aware of the divide between Metallica fans and Slayer fans. Slayer is a much more technical and brutal band. Therefore I think it’s pretty fair to say Hesher would be a Metallica fan, as the underlying reason for his actions seems to be to help out TJ.

Feel free to contact me with comments or questions @BrandonIsaacson or

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