Redefining Loss… Hesher Style

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When a movie is really, really good, it gets stuck in your head like a song. Now this isn’t always the truth in reverse because some of the worst songs get stuck in your head for days and days… but with a bad movie, you only remember how bad it was. Only the good ones get talked about at work the next day. In some cases a film can be indescribably good, and such is the case with Hesher.

Hesher‘s title character (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt) looks about as pissed off as I’ve ever seen a hero (if you can call him that). There are moments in the film’s opening sequences when I doubted his existence within the film’s reality due to Hesher’s insane, erratic, and overtly-violent behavior. This story could have played very very differently, but it doesn’t.

At the heart of this movie is a red Volvo wagon and the boy who needs it. I won’t spoil anything, but when we first see the wagon, it is being towed away. Behind it, a young man on a bmx bike frantically races to keep up. He ducks in and out of traffic, his eyes tear-streaked and glued to the smashed red Volvo that seems to be further and further out of his reach. When he turns a corner and runs into a car, spilling up onto the hood, the boy simply rolls off- grabs his bike- and pedals on. He finally catches up with the red wagon in a tow-yard and opens the driver’s door to climb inside. As he sits behind the wheel we can tell he isn’t really there. He is lost somewhere in memory as he places his hands on the wheel and stares into space. This is TJ.

TJ is alone. His mother has just died, his father (brilliantly played by Rainn Wilson) is in a pharmaceutical-induced coma on the couch, and his grandmother (Piper Laurie) is… well, elderly. On his way to school one morning, fate intervenes in the form of a buried pipe. When TJ hits this pipe and goes flying over his handlebars while riding through a seemingly abandoned construction site, his suppressed rage and emotion cause him to pick up a rock and defiantly chuck it through the nearest window. A few seconds later, Hesher appears, grabbing TJ by the throat and pulling him into the unfinished house. Outside, a security patrol truck pulls up, and Hesher tells TJ, you fucked me…” while tossing an improvised explosive device out the window and bolting in his black van. Hesher has a thing for fire.

When TJ gets home from school later that day, Hesher is standing in his grandmother’s kitchen. He is a scary looking guy with hair down to his waist, homemade tattoos, and a taste for Metallica, gasoline, and cigarettes. He also no longer has a place to stay, so he takes up refuge in  grandma’s garage… naturally.

At this point the movie really begins, and I will stop. This is one of those films that you don’t want to know much about. What I will say is that Hesher is one of the rawest, funniest, and also saddest movies I’ve seen in a long time. It weaves a magnificently broken trail through the course of its running time, and no matter where the plot goes it is thoroughly supported by the performances of the actors involved. I’m talking hands-down, grade-A independent film making here.

At it’s core is Joseph Gordon Levitt, who has come along way since 3rd Rock From the Sun, and cements himself (in my mind anyway) as one of Hollywood’s best actors with this role. Rainn Wilson, of The Office, sports a Jack-Bauer-Style “Beard O’ Grief” throughout the film and makes up for all his silly NBC-shenanigans by totally losing himself in the part of the grieving husband/father. There is also an amazing performance by young Devin Brochu, who plays TJ. It’s refreshing to see new young actors that are able to carry the weight of such a film without a hitch. Brochu delivers such a great performance that no matter how unbelievable the story might become- we buy it hook, line, and sinker. Lastly Natalie Portman (who I believe is incapable of giving a bad performance) does a great job in a role that I won’t tell you anything about. You’ll just have to watch the damn movie.

I will leave you with the pledge that you are not prepared, neither for Hesher, its title character, or the elegant mayhem that ensues.

Hesher rules.