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Messy “Hesher” Disappoints in Sundance Debut

Messy "Hesher" Disappoints in Sundance Debut

“What do you think the rating’s gonna be,” “Hesher” director Spencer Susser joked as he took the stage after the film’s world premiere at the Eccles Center in Park City tonight in Utah. The joke, quite clearly, was in reference to the film’s intensely dirty humor – most dominately displayed by its title character (played by Sundance staple Joseph-Gordon Levitt).

The film follows a boy, T.J. (the talented Devin Brochu) struggling to deal with the recent loss of his mother. Living with his depressive father and loopy grandmother, T.J.’s life is significantly altered when he meets Hesher, a disturbed, greasy haired loner who likes to walk around in his underwear and blow stuff up. Hesher somehow manages to find himself a permanent guest in T.J.’s home, getting him into trouble and helping him pursue an unlikely crush on twentysomething grocery clerk Nicole (Natalie Portman).

“Hesher” was a hot product at Sundance leading up to this evening’s screening. Representatives from numerous distributions – from Focus Features to Summit Entertainment – were in attendance, though reaction might suggest a buyer’s frenzy is not on the horizon. Part lewd odd-couple dark comedy, part oversentimental examination of a grieving family, the film ends up feeling exceptionally disjointed and messy.

Still, Gordon-Levitt’s performance was certainly crowd pleasing. The audience was often in hysterics over his character’s well-executed antics and he received a very warm round of applause as he took the stage for the post-screening Q&A.

“The script was primo,” Gordon-Levitt said modestly when asked where the character came from. “I read a lot of scripts, and most of them don’t make me feel much. This one, I was instantly up on my feet and wanted to try it. It’s really just a well-written character. I can’t say it has much to do with me, per se.”

“That’s a lie,” Susser responded quickly, with the audience seemingly in approval.

Gordon-Levitt – a former child star himself – also praised the work of his young co-star Brochu, who is in nearly every scene of the film.

“I was an actor when I was a kid,” he said. “And I’m really picky about performances from young people. I often hear people making excuses for children actors. They’ll say, ‘aw, it’s just a kid.’ But in my opinion, kids have as much capability – if not more – than anybody to be a great actor. And I’m so proud of you dude [turns to Brochu]. You killed it.”

Associate Editor Peter Knegt is part of the indieWIRE team covering the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. More on his blog.

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