Hesher (2011)

You know that metal head loner who rocks out to Slayer and Metallica all by himself? Well, you should definitely take some life lessons from him some day.

TJ is 13 years old. Two months ago, his mom was killed in an accident, leaving TJ and his grieving dad to move in with grandma to pick up the pieces. Hesher is a loner. He hates the world and everyone in it. He has long, greasy hair and homemade tattoos. He likes fire and blowing things up. He lives in his van until he meets TJ. Hesher is the story of a family struggling to deal with loss and the anarchist who helps them do it in a very unexpected way.

During some of the more angry and I hate “mom, dad, and everybody else around me” periods of my life, I actually found some solace in music that made me want to break down the wall. So with this concept, I could see the cool use of “metal music for therapy” as something new but instead, it just ends up being weird.

Writer/director Spencer Susser does a good job with this film in keeping it weird, a little sad, a little humorous, but never sentimental which is something I can easily say that I appreciated. Right from the get-go, we notice that there has been a death in the family for this father-son combo and there is a lot of really sad and miserable shit that actually happens to this kid, but the film barely ever makes us feel like we have to cry over it all. Instead, he just shows us Hesher being a complete and utter asshole, popping in just whenever he feels like it and doing degenerate things such as lighting a diving board on fire, or even changing the TV channels so he can get porno. It sounds weird I know, but it’s not all that sentimental which I liked considering it was a lot more of a mean film that I thought I was going to get.

Despite the title, this film is actually less about Hesher himself and more about a father and son getting over a death in the family with Hesher popping in just to eff things up more for them. I think it’s cool that they made him the title, but it sort of makes all of the other characters seem like just a bunch of bores when it comes to him. Let me also not forget that this film is incredibly weird which isn’t so bad considering there were a lot of weird and goofy moments that started off pretty strong in the beginning but then it just started getting really weird. Really weird to the point of where I actually wondered if everything I was watching just a part of this kid’s imagination.

The problem with this film is not just the film itself, is more or less just the main character himself, Hesher. To be honest, I don’t know what to really make of this dude other than the fact that he comes into this kids life, with no explanation or reason and even when it seems like he’s asked, nothing is ever said and he just shoots it off to the side. However, if you honestly don’t know how to label Hesher for yourself, just check out the tattoo of the middle finger on his back. That is definitely sure to give you some insight onto who he actually is.

Hesher is also a dude that sort of just keeps to himself but you still never want to eff with him because you know that he will definitely kick the hell out of you right away. Hesher, in his own effed up way, actually ends up slapping a lot of sense into this father and son just by telling them really vulgar metaphors, that he actually compares him losing a nut the same as the dude losing his wife. Yeah, that’s a really bad choice of comparisons but then again this character is not someone who’s normal. Regardless though, the guy is pretty solid because he’s able to give some good insight, provide some dark laughs, and make us feel terribly scared of even messing with him.

However, every time Hesher was working for me the film started to really steer him in the wrong direction I believe. It’s harder and harder to like him considering he does dumb shit like making some joke about Kermit the Frog’s finger that I’ve heard 100 times to this old gal, light this bully’s car on fire but leave the kid there, ask the kid if he has had some sexy time while he fingers the mashed potatoes, and etc. Hesher really can do a lot of cool things and where he can be vulgar and repulsive, some people may find humor in that but for me, I just cringed a lot by how far this guy was pushing the boundaries.

When it comes to playing Hesher though, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great and I think what makes this character watchable in the first place considering JGL seems so flawless with this performance. It may be hard to actually like him but JGL actually helps that a lot here as well. The rest of the cast here is pretty good too with Rainn Wilson playing a very seriously saddy daddy role; Devin Brochu is angsty but also very realistic as the little kid, T.J.; and Natalie Portman does a good job as well but she seems a little out-of-place with a lot of her scenes. I mean the cast is good but when they are compared to Hesher, you don’t really care nor think about them much at all.

Consensus: Hesher has its moments where the dark humor makes you laugh and some of the touching moments also hit well too, but the problem is just like its lead character. We never understand anything about this character, he can be a total dick at times, and he just makes everybody feel uncomfortable without any real rhyme or reason.



  1. Yeah, your thoughts seem to echo what i’ve been hearing. The whole mess up is the character. Ah well, it’s a shame!

    Good review Dan!

  2. Was really disappointed by this one, the whole thing was just kind of… Awkward.

    As for the title character, Did you think at any stage that Hesher was imaginary? At the very least he seemed semi-representative of the rage inside these two suddenly single men, but what exactly we were supposed to take from the metaphor is beyond me.

    My Morning Jacket have a song that go well with your review though, it’s callled ‘Holding onto Black Metal’ and it’s a lot of fun. What exactly you are supposed to take from that is also beyond me.

  3. Glad to read JGL did a good job despite the movie. I’ll give him credit, for a child actor who has been in the business for a long time (80s “Dark Shadows” reboot anyone?) he does not why away from different and interesting roles.

  4. Nice review Dan. Have yet to see this but it seems like reviews are all over the place on this movie. I’ll still check it out for Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman but I won’t have my hopes too high.

  5. I thought this movie was pretty good, especially when you start to think about alternate theories as to what the hell happened. *SPOILERS* I felt at the end that Hesher might have been a figment of the kid’s imagination, a way of coping with all of the tragic events in his life. Of course, Hesher was an asshole, so it was hard to empathize with his behavior, but I thought that was an interesting way to look at things.

  6. Interesting. I will have to check this movie out. From the way you and one of your commenters described it though, sounds like Hesher might just be a really angry projection and figment of this child’s imagination.

    Also, from how you describe Hesher’s character, somehow I’m not surprised. I feel like JGL likes playing outlandish characters “just ’cause.”

  7. I’m planning to see this, but your review seem to make it not wanting to see it more. Never really disappointed with JGL, I’ll check it out later. Thanks for your review!

  8. Was really hoping this was going to get a cinema release over here last year but never did. I was looking forward to seeing a Natalie Portman/JGL combo flick!

    Think your review’s spurred me on to try and find the film to judge it myself.

  9. I just don’t think you got the movie. A ton of subtext in this flick. Very genuine movie about loss, and even though Joseph Gordon Levitt did a great job, I thought the kid outshines in this performance. The Grandmother was great too. Don’t overlook this movie just because it may have been over Dan the movie guys head. Not the happiest of movies but it’s an accurate portrayal of a death in the family, and I’d take weird over cookie cutter bullshit any day.

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