[If you did judge the film by its trailer, you might think that Hesher is a comedy about a bare-chested, pyromaniac, bad boy, a mop-topped kid, and the RDA-recommended supplement of Natalie Portman. If that's the case, you might be disappointed.]
People have various generalizations about what a "hesher" is. Several users of the urban dictionary, have defined a hesher as "a mulleted person in acid-washed jeans and a Judas Priest T-shirt... who still lives in his parent's basement" or more simply put: "someone who smokes and drinks and loves metal."
With this Hesher what you see is not what you get. It's so much more. A multi-layered film, Hesher deals with the larger issues of tragedy, loss, love, and family relationships. While the title might suggest otherwise, the film centers not on Hesher (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt,) but on 13-year-old T.J. (Devin Brochu) who carries most of the film on his young shoulders. Of course, Hesher and his impact on T.J.'s life, can't be ignored. He is the catalyst for everything that follows.
At the start, T.J. and his small family are unraveling from the tragedy of losing one of their own. T.J. tries to hold onto the pieces of what's left of his life, knowing it can never be the same. His father, like many adults in similar situations, becomes immobilized by grief. Neither of them can let go or move on--they've stagnated in the limbo that grief leaves to the living.
Hesher, all tattoos and cigarette smoke, shrouded in mystery and Metallica, bullies his way into their household. He's like the big brother T.J. never really wanted, the devil on his shoulder, and a manifestation of everything T.J. and his family are feeling, but are unable to express. They play by the societal norms of grief: Everything happens for a reason. You pray. You grieve. With time, you move on.
You're not supposed to act out or get angry or seek revenge. And you especially aren't supposed to trespass, trash shit, and set things on fire. Hesher takes the rules and slams them like thunderbolts into the ground. Everything is to the extreme. And you know what? As much havoc as Hesher brings, T.J. and his family somehow need this shake-up. They need to remember how to pick themselves up, how to fight against whatever life throws at them. They need Hesher to remind themselves that they are, in fact, alive.
I was not at all surprised to hear that the film's director faced his own family tragedy at 13 years old-- an older brother was killed by a drunk driver. Influenced by real life, no doubt, makes Hesher an especially personal film for a director and for an audience.
Everyone's lost someone, at some point, but traces of that person, those memories, those scars never leave you. They run through your veins and express themselves in unexpected ways throughout the rest of your life.
Tragedy and loss that strike during childhood can be especially poignant. When I was 11 years old, I lost a good friend to cancer. She was also a kid, like me. We were both one month away from our 12th birthdays. After I'd heard that she died, I remember climbing my favorite tree, high above our house, to isolate myself. There, I felt like I'd found the in-between of Earth and sky-- a place where I could stay for awhile-- in grief-stricken limbo. I cried my eyes out. Alone. It was a moment of innocence lost. A realization that life wasn't all frosted cupcakes and field trips. After the tears dried up, I sat there for a good, long time peering down upon Earth, unsure what to make of it. A car coasted down the hill below me, and in that moment, inexplicably, I threw a rock at it.
Slam(!!) went the rock onto the hood of the car and Slam (!!) went the guy's brakes. I had no idea what had come over me. I didn't act out, wasn't one to get in trouble. That was my inner Hesher-- making it known that yes, life can be shitty a lot of the time, but yes, you can pick yourself up and get through it to live again and live more fully.
Hesher has its comedic moments, but the reality is that life isn't always kind. It's the drama, the small gestures, the expressions and emotions portrayed on the actors' faces that really set the film apart. It's a sad, sad story and a heartfelt film-- full of beautiful performances by everyone involved. My guess is that it was also a labor of love for the entire cast & crew. Even grown men will have tears rolling down their cheeks and, I might add, they won't feel ashamed by it.
© 2011 Review by KLiedle
(in limited release)
Director: Spencer Susser
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie, Natalie Portman