The challenges to the central characters ideally offer insights or revelations—certainly to us the viewers and, at best, the individuals living out the comedy or tragedy, as the case may be. But Hesher feels more like a merry-go-round than a story with direction.
Thirteen-year-old T.J. anchors the study of the devastating effect of his mother's death in a car accident, an event that occurred before the story proper begins and revealed early in the action. T.J. and his father Paul live with slightly senile grandmother Madeleine who has more honesty and sweetness than anyone else. She observes, "Sometimes when bad things happen, people get a little off balance." There's plenty of evidence to support this as Paul sinks into a pill-popping, inert depression. T.J. gets harassed at school by a total jerk and takes refuge in his crush on Nicole, a checker at the local supermarket.
The wild card in this game comes courtesy of Hesher, a twenty- something-year-old with ugly, homemade tattoos and an attitude. More a doppelganger for T.J. than a real character, Hesher eats like an animal, curses incessantly, and behaves like an unbridled id, that is, violent and antisocial. Uninvited, the unkempt, slovenly Hesher moves into T.J.'s house, appears at his school, taunts him over his sexual interest in Nicole, and trashes several places and things. But rather than supplying an exhilarating release, which would be wonderful, he's a juvenile indulgence, flaunting immaturity as so many recent films have, especially his boring sexual focus. Unimaginative writers rely on cursing and fifth-grade, i.e. dull, sex talk.
As Hesher, Joseph Gordon-Levitt believably telegraphs the consummate offensive intruder, but unfortunately he has nowhere to go with his disruptive persona. Rainn Wilson plays the depressed father Paul who does show some growth. And Natalie Portman, in a small role, inhabits her usual sweet self. And Devin Brochu as T.J. delivers beautifully as the tale's anchor. The fault lies in that story, delivered technically via unexceptional compositions and sound. It could and should have been much better had the responsible parties decided to address this important tragedy with the care, attention, and insight it merits. At a Landmark Theatre.