Adolescence is never an easy experience. For T.J. it is made significantly more difficult with the passing of his mother. His home life is non-existent: his father, Paul, (Rainn Wilson) is glued to the couch and budges only to pass judgement on grief counseling groups and his grandmother is just going with the flow. School days are marked by a bully assaulting him in the bathroom. The only reprieve T.J. can take are his visits to the grocery store where Nicole (Natalie Portman) works. With no refuge to take in at home, what is a teenage boy to do?
With the aid of what some may call fate, or more accurately, bad luck, Hesher comes into T.J.'s life. He smells bad, has a perchance for starting fires and his language could only be described as foul. Hesher could only be described as a guardian angel with an entirely irrepressible id. Sharing sexual escapades at a dinner table with T.J.'s grandmother is not even enough to make own arch an eyebrow. His idea of getting even with a bully involves attempted murder and then abandoning T.J. at the scene. There are no lows for this character and for that, we thank Spencer Susser. The writer/director does not over indulge in stylized shots or quirky song selections. He lets his anarchist loose on the rest of the cast and sits back.
At times during the film it feels like Hesher may just wire up the film and blow it up for his own amusement, but Gordon-Levitt revels in the jester without turning Hesher into a charade. There is heart to Hesher's crude metaphors for life. T.J., Paul, and Nicole need a boot to shake the cobwebs and live. There really is no other comparison I could make for Hesher other than Clarence of Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life. Although Clarence never partook of a joint. Not that I know of anyway.
The ultimate downfall of Hesher is that the film lacks interesting characters besides Joseph Gordon-Levitt. While Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson and Natalie Portman all quite accurately convey those in distress over loss and having a crappy life, that doesn't make for any compelling drama in the eyes of viewers. As such, Hesher only entertains when he is onscreen. Like the fires that he starts so often: there is a flash and then everything fizzles into smoke.
**1/2 out of ****