Those searching for fresh evidence that the collective obsession otherwise known as “the crisis of masculinity” remains alive and kicking: look no further than Hesher. The film practically writhes with anxiety over how one should “be a man” in a world where carriers of the Y chromosome have become either moist-eyed schlubs or hair-trigger quasi-sociopaths. For thirteen-year-old T.J. (Devin Brochu), this means dealing with the sudden death of his mother largely on his own, as depressed father Paul (Rainn Wilson) collapses into a medicated stupor and sweet-tempered grandma Madeleine (Piper Laurie) tries to keep the household running. T.J. obsesses over the family’s smashed-up car—a totem of happier times that’s been unceremoniously hauled off to the dump—and attempts to ward off a particularly brutal school bully to little avail. What’s to become of this lost, angry boy?
Enter the eponymous antihero (played with a gleeful snarl by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the particular brand of ass-kicking, skirt-chasing, political-correctness-is-for-pansies manhood he represents. T.J. finds him in an abandoned house on the outskirts of town, where he narrowly escapes the law’s grasp by launching what appears to be a homemade grenade at an approaching patrol car. Pissed that T.J. messed up his living situation, Hesher begins stalking him around his school and home, peering at him through doors or rumbling towards him in his junky white van, heavy-metal blasting through the windows. He eventually (and somewhat inexplicably) begins living in T.J.’s house, lounging in his underwear and observing the family’s zombie-like interactions with one another. Not liking what he sees, he begins schooling T.J. in the fine art of messing shit up and stirring the emotional pot within the home. Read Matt Connolly’s review of Hesher.