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Thursday, April 18, 2024

A band's debut album is never perfect. There are usually some great songs and ideas that don't work well together until the band gains more experience. The same can be said with directors. Most often, a debut film is full of great ideas and scenes that aren't fully executed. This describes Spencer Susser's directorial debut of "Hesher" spot on.

"Hesher" is seen through the eyes of 13-year-old TJ (Devin Brochu) as he and his father, Paul (a morose, bearded Rainn Wilson), deal with the loss of TJ's mother. Paul becomes a pill-popping vegetable, TJ takes beatings from a bully, and both rely on the fragile grandmother (Piper Laurie) to take care of them.

Cue Hesher.

In a burst of frustration, TJ tosses a rock through a window of an abandoned house, unaware that an angry, malevolent vagabond named Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is inside. Security is soon alerted and forces Hesher to abandon the house, which makes TJ the squatter's newest target.

He follows TJ home and forcefully moves himself into the garage. Paul, strung out on pills, just accepts his new house guest. TJ tries to get rid of the shirtless nuisance, but Hesher physically overpowers him, adding to the burden of TJ's heavy life.

Hesher repairs and destroys TJ's life through unconventional life lessons, whether it's berating TJ for not taking an early walk with his grandmother or forcing him to stand up to a bully by torching said bully's car.

Early in the film, TJ falls for a down-on-her-luck grocery store clerk, Nicole (Natalie Portman), after she saves him from a bully. The two develop a friendly relationship until Hesher decides to stir that pot as well.

"Hesher," at its core, is a film about how people deal with grief. And man, does it pack a lot of grief. Especially for TJ, who deals with more shit in a weeklong period than most do in a lifetime. This is easily the most heartbreaking and heartwarming film I've seen this year.

Gordon-Levitt is clearly the star, in one of the best roles of his career. His crazy, chain-smoking, vulgar portrayal of Hesher is reason enough to see the film. Add a "Garden State"-era Natalie Portman and Dwight Schrute as a troubled father, and it's clear that the cast of "Hesher" really packs a punch.

But that's not to say the film is without faults. "Hesher" feels like two movies forced into one as part drama, part dark comedy, that just don't settle together.

It breaks character with a flashback to TJ's mother's death, something I wished they would have kept vague and left to the viewer's imagination, as the rest of the film seems to do.

Overall, "Hesher" was a great watch, if not just for the performance of Gordon-Levitt, who will surely nab himself an Oscar.

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