starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson, Natalie Portman
screenplay by Spencer Susser & David Michôd
directed by Spencer Susser
EVERYTHING MUST GO
starring Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Michael Peña, Laura Dern
screenplay by Dan Rush, based on the story "Why Don't You Dance?" by Raymond Carver
directed by Dan Rush
by Ian Pugh You could say that Spencer Susser's Hesher is about the desperate search for philosophical guidance during times of grief and how it can come from the unlikeliest of places...but that's the easy-to-digest version. The eponymous longhaired, frequently-shirtless metalhead makes for an intentionally obvious allegory; less obvious is Hesher's message that Christ was probably nothing like the Fonz. Troubled young lad T.J. (Devin Brochu) is still reeling from his mother's death, and during one of his frequent temper tantrums, he runs afoul of Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who responds by moving into T.J.'s house uninvited. Hesher's a profane slob prone to bouts of unprovoked violence, but Dad (Rainn Wilson) is too depressed to care and wacky old Grandma (Piper Laurie) takes Hesher in senile stride. So, T.J. is forced to live with this new houseguest under threat of a "skullfucking." Admittedly, the picture boils down to a series of wacky vignettes (in which Hesher hounds T.J. and fucks up his life accordingly), though anyone looking for a genuine moral centre is bound to be disappointed. While Hesher inevitably teaches the characters about the virtues of moving on, the very fact of Hesher himself throws doubt on the intentionality of his lessons. Offering advice in the form of vulgar, half-assed metaphors, he is perhaps best described as an out-of-control golem conjured by an adolescent's directionless rage.
Paradoxically, Hesher could be considered an inversion of the Noble Savage archetype. Occasionally he stands up for T.J. against sadistic bully Dustin (Brendan Hill), but he spends more time standing back with a bemused smirk, watching nature take its course as T.J.'s family slowly breaks apart. (Notice, too, how his overcompensatory violence towards Dustin mirrors his empty threats against T.J., and how instead of solving anything it simply incurs more of the bully's wrath.) The film culls numerous laughs from a psychopath who's a comically inappropriate role model, but more than that, it offers a furious refutation of the popular portrayal of the Other as magical restorers of faith. (Similarly, T.J. is so enamoured of faraway crush Nicole (a heartbreaking Natalie Portman)--whose name is barely mentioned in the film--that he's unable to see her as an adult struggling to get by.) Hesher's not here to accommodate your little epiphanies about living life or growing up and fuck you for thinking otherwise.* Every schmaltzy moment of Hesher is turned on its ear by its title character's impulsive behaviour: a supposedly "fun" scene where Hesher knocks T.J. and Nicole into a stranger's pool begins to disturb when he also tosses in some garbage and sets the diving board on fire. You could theoretically regard Hesher's friendly relationship with Grandma as an indication that the kid ain't so bad after all, but this mostly leaves you to speculate on Hesher's own family history. And when the film casts an apparently-beatific eye on his brutal outbursts and rambling anecdotes, it's with the understanding that he's doing it to entertain himself. Sometimes assholes are just assholes; and sometimes they crop up in your life for no reason. But that doesn't mean they aren't human beings.
In the more typically unctuous low-budget prestige piece Everything Must Go, salesman Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) loses his job on the same day his wife leaves him, locks him out of the house, and dumps all his earthly possessions on the front lawn. Apparently Nick's re-emerging alcoholism got him into this mess, so he goes the extra mile, squatting on his lawn and drowning his sorrows in PBR. Soon he's forced to hold a yard sale, bringing him into contact with pregnant next-door neighbour Samantha (Rebecca Hall) and wandering child Kenny (Christopher C.J. Wallace). These lonely acquaintances are waiting for their loved ones to jumpstart their lives again--and, it goes without saying, they stand in for Nick's inability to confront the future. Do they have any purpose beyond their allegorical stations? Nope. It's precisely the approach that Hesher contradicts: everyone is so dedicated to serving Nick's life story as to fail to convey any real humanity. (One of the few truly affecting moments is a wonderful scene with Laura Dern, who plays an old high-school acquaintance of Nick's in what feels like an unexpected coda to Wild at Heart.) For all its lip service about fighting the totems of past failures, Everything Must Go sure seems keen on reducing the concept of personal growth to a series of fetish objects. I have seen the future of "indie" cinema...and it's a fortune-cookie fortune taped to a Polaroid snapshot. Originally published: May 13, 2011.
*The end credits scroll alongside a montage of tattoos drawn in Hesher's crude hand, each of which mocks an image or metaphor contained in the film. return