Joseph Gordon-Levitt isn’t playing an uninvited guest so much as a manifestation of chaotic grief in “Hesher,” told from the point of view of a 13-year-old boy (Devin Brochu) whose struggle to overcome the sudden death of his mother is upended by the imposed arrival of the titular character.
Gordon-Levitt’s long-haired, chain-smoking, often-shirtless metal-head squatter and his prankishly, profanely violent antics initially go unremarked on by young TJ’s catatonic father (Rainn Wilson) and lonely grandmother (Piper Laurie). But they eventually serve as a wake-up call to the whole household that any kind of action is more emotionally healing than inaction.
It’s not the most complex message a movie about mourning could offer, and at times “Hesher” flirts with being the type of misery parade as taxing in indies as relentless sunniness is in studio movies.
But director Spencer Susser, who wrote the film with David Michod, has a kinetic filmmaking style and an impish, crash-and-burn sense of humor that keeps sentiment at bay long enough to let us appreciate the loose, uncomplicated performances from a cast that includes suddenly ubiquitous Oscar winner Natalie Portman as a cash-strapped store clerk who befriends TJ.