I will always remember Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the prepubescent Tommy Sullivan on the NBC sitcom Third Rock From the Sun. He's of course branched out in the years since and cemented his place as one of Hollywood's finest young actors, and I have little trouble accepting him in any role, but I've never quite forgotten the face of that little boy, an alien disguising himself as a human. If there was ever a role of his that would make me forgot, it would probably be Hesher.
In the film of the same name, Gordon-Levitt plays Hesher, an unshaven, long-haired squatter who isn't quite a chain smoker and doesn't hesitate to break the law whenever he feels like it. After a run in with young T.J. (Devin Brochu), Hesher moves in with the boy, the boy's father Paul (Rainn Wilson), and grandmother Madeleine (Piper Laurie). Hesher doesn't ask permission, he doesn't even introduce himself, he just shows up one day and begins using the washing machine. Due to the recent and sudden death of T.J.'s mother, Paul can't be bothered to remove their uninvited house guest.
Hesher is a mediocre film that contains scattered moments of greatness. The characters, for the most part, are phenomenal. Wonderfully written, powerful roles complimented by tremendous performances, especially from Gordon-Levitt and Wilson. Young Devin Brochu is very impressive in such a pivotal role and Piper Laurie can always be counted on to come through. Then there's Natalie Portman as the shy Nicole. Portman does fine with the role, but her character is borderline useless. Her involvement is minor at best and she often feels like she doesn't even belong in the film. And the way they tried to portray her as a "plain Jane" is comical. You can put her in the dorkiest sweaters and the thickest Coke bottle glasses that you can find, but Portman will always be a stunning beauty and there's something off about seeing her in such an awkward role.
Great characters don't necessarily make great films. They certainly help and, in some cases, they can elevate a film to greatness, but Hesher's narrative is so flimsy that the film can only achieve so much. For starters, it's a story that we've all seen countless times before. When we see Hesher and we see the pain T.J.'s family is going through, it becomes immediately apparent where the film is going. And while it goes through those familiar motions, they are well done and appropriately heartwarming and powerful, but the predictability of it all dampens the entire effect. Hesher is a Lifetime movie with a heavy metal attitude.
With Gordon-Levitt's performance, Hesher could've worked as a character study if the focus was more on him and less on the grieving family. But that would've been another movie entirely, and a better movie at that. As it stands, Hesher is worth watching only if you're in the mood for something predictably uplifting.
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