Quint on dark comedy HESHER starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, young Devin Brochu and Natalie Portman! Sundance 2010!
Published at: Jan. 23, 2010, 5:25 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with another review before I hit the sack. It was a 6 movie and 1 interview day for me and tomorrow promises at least 4 movies and 3 interviews, so forgive my exhaustion showing through as I’m sure it will.
I flat out loved HESHER. Yes, you can pick at the movie a bit… the biggest sin is a lull between acts 2 and 3 that lasts about 10 minutes, but for tone and sheer ballsy entertainment this one is going to be hard to top during my Park City adventure.
If I had to classify Hesher into one category I’d fail miserably. It’s a comedy first and foremost and a dark one at that, but there’s also a heavy dramatic and tragic element that plays a large part in the plot and character work.
Director Spencer Susser revels in casting against type. Here you have a movie where Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a hilarious anarchist badass you don’t fuck with, Rainn Wilson is a deeply depressed father who is ignoring his remaining family after the loss of his wife, Natalie Portman is the homely, down on her luck check out girl and Carrie’s Mom (Piper Laurie) is the sweet-natured, not at all creepy grandma.
And it all works, which is the great success of the movie and the reason why it immediately struck a positive chord with me.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is on a helluva roll at the moment and he keeps that momentum going strongly with his title character, a heavy metal loving, pyromaniac destructor of any and everything that gets in his way. Hesher’s a man of few words. For example we’re introduced to his character as young Devin Brochu makes the horrible mistake of throwing a rock through a window of a build-in-progress house Hesher is squatting in.
In one shot the rock is thrown, window shatters and then Levitt just kind of materializes out of the dark doorway, striding casually, but with purpose, shirt off, home-made tattoos on full display, and he grabs this 12 year old kid by the throat and pulls him into the house. A security guard is attracted to the window shattering and appears. Levitt screams “You fucked me!” at the kid, then calmly grabs a handful of dynamite, lights it and throws it out the window, slowly walking over to his shit as it blows up.
Then the dude just keeps popping up in young Brochu’s school (apparently selling drugs to the junior high schoolers in the boy’s bathroom), watching the kid get his ass kicked on a daily basis by the ginger bully.
Hesher then shows up inside the kid’s house, stipping to his tighty-whities and making himself at home. No one challenges him. One look at the guy and you know you don’t say shit to him.
In fact, at first I thought they were going the Drop Dead Fred route and making Hesher a figment of Devin Brochu’s imagination, allowing him to focus the rage of his loss and making him do tough things he wouldn’t think he could do. But then Rainn Wilson had to go see him and that blew my smart-ass prediction.
It’s such a fun and funny character to set a movie around that if that was all the movie had going for it I could easily recommend it. But no, there’s more! For this very special limited time offer you also get a compelling family drama as this particular unit is rocked by the recent auto-death of Brochu’s mother and Wilson’s wife.
Brochu, one of the good kid actors that knows the power of understatement, is coping in his own way… which is essentially being unwilling to let go any physical piece of his connection to his mother, including the wrecked car that has been impounded… while his father copes by medicating himself into a dull neutrality and sleeping his life away.
The only one trying to cope by bringing the family together is Piper Laurie’s Grandma character, but she’s old and a little on the loopy side herself.
As you can imagine Hesher’s appearance throws a monkey wrench into everything, sometimes making certain problems worse, sometimes making them better. In a very weird way Hesher bonds with TJ (Brochu), helping him pursue his first crush, a mousy version of the radiant Ms. Natalie Portman.
“Mousy!?! How dare you, sir!” I can hear you say. Yes, she can look mousy and yes, some of it is just throwing big glasses on her, but most of it is in her mismatched wardrobe and the way she carries herself. Life has taken a particular joy in shitting on Nicole’s life not in a tragic movie backstory way, but in a “I’m working a real job… shitty, but real and I’m having to sell shit to pay my rent” regular working class way.
There’s an odd assortment of characters all played extremely well. You’d expect Portman and Gordon-Levitt to be on their game even if playing different types, but the real surprise to me was Rainn Wilson. His grieving husband character isn’t as flashy as Hesher and doesn’t have the same amount of time devoted to him as Brochu’s character, but the biggest compliment I can give him is I didn’t see Dwight at all… until he shaves his beard, but that’s a given. Thinking back I can’t remember one single joke or gag he has. All his character’s humor is in reaction shots.
The flick’s a hard R, with some of the foulest of foul shit constantly spewing out of Hesher’s mouth… the kind of witty/dirty mixture that is guaranteed to be quoted in film lover circles and dorm rooms across the country upon release.
As far as I know Hesher doesn’t have a US distributor yet, but it will. And if whoever picks it up does a good enough job marketing this flick they could have another indie sensation, something off-kilter, but hilarious and memorable… the kind of movies studios hunt for at fests like this.
Okay, that’s it. If I go to sleep now I get 3 hours and 20 minutes of sleep before my day starts off with The Company Men. As usual, if you want instant reactions to what’s going on at Sundance follow me on Twitter.
Back tomorrow with much more stuff, including the really damn good Afghan war documentary RESTREPO and my thoughts on SPLICE!
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