I’m guessing Hesher will look great in its promotional spots:  See zany Hesher, the long-haired, tattooed stoner, teach granny how to smoke a bong!  See Hesher freak out and hurl furniture, grills, and people into a swimming pool!  Watch as Hesher teaches dirty words to a little kid!

But here’s the problem:  People who buy tickets hoping to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the title character doing all of those wild-and-crazy things will get their wish, but they’ll probably be mildly disappointed, as well, because this movie wants nothing so much as to tug at the heartstrings, and as a mixture of comedy and drama, Hesher is a mess.  It’s an admirable, interesting misfire, but a misfire nonetheless.

The film has a cute premise.  Party animal Hesher meets 13-year-old TJ (Devin Brochu), invites himself into TJ’s home and life … and then refuses to leave.  This new arrangement does not bother TJ’s father (Rainn Wilson), a man so lost in grief over the car-accident death of his wife that everything escapes his notice, including the fact that he’s been staring glassy-eyed at Wild Kingdom on the TV screen for weeks.  TJ’s sweet-natured grandmother, played by Piper Laurie, takes an instant liking to her grandson’s new “best friend.”

Hesher turns out to be the anti-Mary Poppins for this family of three still reeling from the loss of the mother.  Rather than offer a spoonful of sugar, Hesher prescribes a bongful of weed for granny, and a crash course in arson for TJ.  That might sound amusing, but Hesher also tackles somber issues, like grief and schoolyard bullies, with clumsy shifts in tone.  It doesn’t help that 20-something Hesher’s “bond” with young TJ is less than convincing.  (Natalie Portman, cast against type as a bespectacled, accident-prone cashier, is surprisingly good.)

This mix of madcap stoner and mopey mourners might have looked good on paper (and in trailers), but Hesher is too often a kegger with flat beer.       Grade:  C+




Director:  Spencer Susser  Cast:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie, Devin Brochu, John Carroll Lynch, Brendan Hill  Release:  2011


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