There’s no pain quite like losing somebody you love. Years are spent thinking about the conversations that you missed, the experiences you didn’t have and the fact that you will never see them again. Worse yet, there’s no surefire way to ever rid yourself of that hurt. Some people try therapy, while others meditate. Some speak openly about it with friends and family, others express themselves in stories or poetry. Or you can let a homeless, van-driving, pyromaniac metalhead move in with you, as happens in the movie Hesher. Like I said, there’s no guaranteed answer for everyone.
Written and directed by first time feature filmmaker Spencer Susser, Hesher is a darkly comedic take on finding the line between where you grieve what you’ve lost and appreciate what you have. Armed with a brilliant turn by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, wonderful use of color and an amazing soundtrack, it’s simply metal entertainment.
In the film, young T.J. Forney (Devin Brochu) is in a dark place. After the death of his mother, he and his father (Rainn Wilson) have moved into his grandmother’s house, his dad sleeps all day, and the school bully (Brendan Hill) dishes out daily beatings. Then T.J. meets Hesher (Gordon-Levitt), the aforementioned homeless, van-driving, pyromaniac metalhead who decides to move in with the Forney family after T.J. exposes his hideout. An embodiment of nihilistic chaos, Hesher shows this downtrodden family that from rock bottom the only place to go is up.
At the center of it all is Gordon-Levitt, who puts on a performance unlike anything we’ve ever seen from him before. Though bound to be viewed as an unconventional choice by those that still see the actor as Tommy Solomon from the long running television show 3rd Rock From The Sun or even as Arthur from last summer’s blockbuster Inception, his range is on full display here, undergoing an arc that at no point feels forced or like it’s betraying the character as it was initially introduced. An excellent mixture of light and dark, Gordon-Levitt’s Hesher can both disgust you and make you laugh with the most vulgar metaphor you’ve ever heard and then make you feel the character’s anger when flipping over a living room table.
Though the film is more of a comedy than it is a drama, there is an overarching sense of gloom that is captured perfectly by Spencer Susser’s direction and Morgan Susser’s cinematography. Throughout the entire film it almost seems as though somebody rubbed a thin layer of mud over the camera lens giving everything a sickly brown appearance that wonderfully encapsulates the film’s tone. Heightening everything from Hesher’s grungy lifestyle, to the utter depression being felt by TJ and Paul, to the age of everything in the grandmother’s house, the movie wouldn’t be the same without it.
And then there’s the soundtrack, which the movie wouldn’t be complete without. As the title would suggest – not to mention the font used on the posters – metal is the lifeblood of the film and very rarely is it not pumping. Scenes in which Hesher is rocking out in his dilapidated van wouldn’t be nearly as effective if it were anyone other than Metallica being blasted out of the speakers. Even the opening riff from “The Shortest Straw” during the title sequence is an example of a perfect match between music and material.
Thanks in large part to its endlessly fascinating title character, Hesher is nothing short of absolute entertainment. Deep without becoming esoteric or preachy; dark while always providing humor; and cathartic without being overbearing, writer/director Spencer Susser’s debut film is metal magnificence.