TJ's father (played exceptionally by Rainn Wilson) has fallen into a deep depression following the death of his wife and TJ's mother. They are now living with TJ's elderly Grandmother. Piper Laurie delivers a touching performance as an elderly woman who feels helpless as she sees her son vanishing and her grandson losing control.
Everything takes a very fast change for "the better" when a stoned-out, psychotic, metalhead and 'pyromatically'-inclined dude named "Hesher" appears. At first he is a threat to TJ, but soon he becomes a hero. Hesher takes it all on for TJ. Spinning wild tales of drug-fused adventures and sexual escapades. Hesher is sort of like a very sick and twisted ID personified.
The film takes a quick turn leading young TJ into a stew of profane, sexual, violent and dangerous acts.
Essentially this film is about rage. In fact, it is one of the most interesting explorations of rage I've ever seen. TJ has seen his mother killed in a violent car crash, his father fades away, his Grandmother seems to be on the verge of dying, he is bullied, he is lonely and he is lost. But most of all he is in a deep grief that he can only express through rebellion and righteous anger.
This was one of my favorite movies of 2011. I felt that Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt gave three of the strongest performances of the year. Yet the film was met with mixed reviews and did poorly at the box office.
For many this film seemed "unbelievable" and for others it was offensive. And there was nothing "twee" here. It truly deserves it's R-rating. Thus JGL's mass of young girls could not gain access to it. And when they did, they probably didn't like seeing their "Teen Dream" -- who is actually in his 30's -- wearing a hair weave and covered in suspiciously child-like tattoos.
But I've seldom seen a more brazen, honest, bold and keen observation of adolescent rage and despair. Much of the entire film is pure rage busting out to the strains of 80's heavy metal guitar solos.
Of course, this is all 'metaphor' -- Is Hesher even real? Spencer Susser has created a surreal film that many didn't seem to realize was surreal. Much of this film is in TJ's mind -- and the rest is propelled by bravery he finds in his imaginary metal hero. This is an angry and defiant movie told from the perspective of a very sad and traumatized child.
I think it is too easy to blame Susser for "failing" to somehow better underline the fact that much of what we see is not "reality." But I think that is lame. The sad truth is that Hesher failed to connect to the correct audience. This is not a sanitized mall movie. This is Art House Cinema with an unexpected edge. An edge that is sharp and potentially dangerous.