Lionsgate // 2010 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 5th, 2011
Loud music. Pornography. Lighting fires. These are a few of Hesher's favorite things.
The term "hesher" is used for a member of the subgenre of working-class metal fans. These are guys who aren't into the doom-and-gloom metal or its more pretty/glam aspects, but rather those who like to pump their fists to Metallica while garbed in long hair, old jeans, and ripped T-shirts. They don't necessarily have a goal in life and are perfectly happy with this fact. The ultimate document of the hasher lifestyle may be the short Heavy Metal Parking Lot. The mullets and metal-love on display at that Judas Priest concert perfectly capture the devil-may-care attitude of the fans. But of course there's always that one guy at the party who has to take things to the extreme, and for heshers that means longer hair, tighter jeans, and a move from violence in music to violence in life. That's how Hesher was born. It's a darkly comic drama about colliding lifestyles and the unique hold grief can have on us. It's also all about the metal.
TJ (Devin Brochu, Rubber) has just lost his mom to a car accident. He's a slight boy, teased at school, and his grief makes him an easy target. His life is made more difficult because he and his pill-popping father (Rainn Wilson, Super) have had to move in with his grandmother (Piper Laurie, Twin Peaks). On his way to school one day, TJ rides through a sub-division construction area. He falls off his bike, and in a fit of rage throws a rock through one of the windows. He just happens to throw it through the window of the house that Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brick) is squatting in. When the security guard shows up, Hesher is forced to vacate. The way he sees it, TJ owes him a place to crash, and his intrusion while change TJ's life in surprising ways.
There are five reasons to watch Hesher: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rainn Wilson, Natalie Portman, Piper Laurie, and Devin Brochu. Whatever other problems the film might have (and there are plenty), these five actors are simply amazing to watch. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is nothing short of transformed as Hesher. Gone is the awkward charm of 10 Things I Hate About You or even the tough-guy persona of Brick. Here he's lean, mean, and simple could not care less. He's positively magnetic as Hesher and his charisma helps to paper over some of the cracks in the film's story. Natalie Portman is almost as transformed, going for a subdued character here. She's not the beautiful dancer of Black Swan or the "average" girl of Garden State but a glasses-bedecked woman who seems worn down by her job as a cashier, old before her time. Rainn Wilson shows chops I didn't think he had as the grief-stricken father, and Devin Brochu is an amazing actor for a child of his age. Piper Laurie has slowed down a bit since the height of her popularity, but she still brings a certain gravitas to her role as the addled grandmother.
Notice, of course, that plot and character were not on the list of reasons to watch Hesher. That's because the characters are a bit trite. We've seen the grieving father and kindly neighborhood lady before, and the plot is fairly meandering. In fact, it's possible to pinpoint the moment that Hesher abandons any pretense at being a normal drama. TJ is being teased at school, and then Hesher comes into his life. Not long after this occurs, TJ has an altercation with another student in a bathroom, and the boy wrestles TJ to the ground. Hesher appears in the doorway. In another movie Hesher would have stood up for TJ, beaten the kid up, and cemented their friendship; in Hesher, the title character instead just walks away, leaving TJ to his fate. Although there are a few overly sentimental moments towards the end, Hesher is not generally concerned with the expectations of the family drama genre. Both the film and its protagonist are uninterested in the way things are usually done.
In fact, it's a bit disingenuous to think of Hesher as a drama at all. It has much more in common with the work of playwrights like Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. Hesher takes place in the same kind of unsettling world, filled with opaque personalities of dubious intention. Also, because of the pairing of Hesher and TJ, Hesher maintains a bit of a Grimm's Fairy Tale vibe, with the suburbs acting as the forest and fellow students as the trolls. Hesher is the big, bad wolf who befriends the innocent young man and teaches him how to survive in a scary world. Taken on these terms, Hesher's lack of narrative drive and occasional forays into sentimentality become a bit easier to take.
On Blu-ray, Hesher looks better than its subject would suggest. The 2.44:1 AVC-encoded transfer is a bit gritty, but keeps detail strong. Some of the darker scenes suffer from a lack of detail, but compression artifacts aren't a significant problem and color saturation is spot-on. The DTS-HD 7.1 audio track is even more impressive. Dialogue is crisp and clear in the front, but it's the music and atmosphere that really impress here. Surrounds are used effectively in outdoor scenes, and the subwoofer gets a workout during the film's use of music.
Extras are also fairly extensive. We get a combined 35 minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes that show the actors working through their characters. We get an 8-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and some promotional material (including Hesher's sketchbook and the film's trailer).
Hesher does not exist in our reality. That a young man like Hesher could act with impunity both with and towards TJ the way he does is simply laughable. Treated as anything close to a real-life drama, Hesher makes no sense. Those primed to enjoy the film as a weird foray into a bizarre lifestyle will appreciate it, but those who think this is like the average drama will be severely disappointed.
Hesher is not a film for everyone. Fans of the actors owe it to themselves to sit through the film's difficulties for the tremendous performances on display. The excellent audiovisual presentation and few supplements make this Blu-ray the definitive way to watch Hesher at home.
Hesher has its problems, but it's not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes