Who's In It: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Natalie Portman, Devon Brochu, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie, John Carroll Lynch
The Basics: A life out of balance must right itself eventually. For the Forney family, the catalyst for healing their wounds over the death of their matriarch comes in the package of Hesher (Levitt), a tattooed, unpredictable, heavy-metal loving freak. The movie opens showing how Paul Forney (Wilson) is nearly inconsolable after the car accident that took his wife's life. His son T.J. (Brochu) has no choice but to live like a ghost, unnoticed by his father and unreachable by his grandmother (Laurie). After T.J. accidentally gets Hesher kicked out of the house he's squatting in, he waltzes into their living room and won't get off their couch. Everyone is too terrified to tell him to leave and soon he is integrated into this broken family.
What's The Deal: Movie families dealing with the tragedy of early, unexpected death is well-tread ground. This film, however, combines that heavy-handedness with a What About Bob? element that makes Hesher one of my favorite characters of the year. He is a really well-written and fantastically performed character that quietly anchors the entire movie, and since you never know what he is going to do, you never know quite where the movie is headed, either. Much to co-writer/director Spencer Susser's credit, the movie gets a little nuts (some you see coming, many are surprises). The audience ends up in the same position as the members of the Forney family--out of the loop and mildly terrified--and feeling an even greater affinity for Hesher with all of his heavy metal wisdom.
WWHD?: In Hesher's world, things seem so clear. If someone wrongs you, they get punished. If your grandmother wants you to go on a walk with her, you do it. Hot chicks should be "poked." And sometimes when people say hurtful/true things, it makes you angry, and you throw a plate, but it's nice if you clean it up. In all of his unpredictability he is uncomplicated, making him the perfect candidate to wake up people who are buried under the weight of their own confusing emotions.
No Weak Links Here: JGL is having such a good time onscreen that the rest of the movie pales in comparison. But under close scrutiny, the supporting performances are so strong that it gives him more space to work. Wilson, Brochu, and Laurie all do their share of the heavy lifting here, and their pain is palpable. The biggest question mark for me was "Why so little Natalie Portman?" It feels like some of her scenes may have gotten cut, because her frustration with life seems too acute to just give her 15 minutes of screen time and drop her. Maybe she was too busy being in every other movie coming out this year to film more scenes?