I'm writing one review for two movies, "Hesher," and "Everything Must Go," because what I want to say about both of them essentially boils down to the same thing. The two are not at all similar, aside from being independent films and technically both could be called comedies, if you like your comedies with a large dose of depression, angst, and self-destruction. They both have the same problem though, which is that they both have interesting ideas at their cores, but those ideas aren't fully developed enough to sustain full features. So the filmmakers added a bunch of other typical, indie, quirky bits of business in a vain attempt to patch the gaps. In both cases, it doesn't quite work.
"Hesher" is the worse offender. It's the tale of T.J. (Devin Brochu), a kid who is frequently bullied and lives with a dotty grandmother (Piper Laurie) and depressed father (Rainn Wilson). He develops a fixation on a girl who works at the supermarket (Natalie Portman). Then an accidental encounter brings Hesher (Joseph Gordon Levitt) into their lives. Hesher is long-haired, bearded, heavily-tattooed, reprobate drifter with no respect for the rules of civilization. He is impulsively destructive, cheerfully vulgar, taking a variety of different substances, and will commit illegal acts at the drop of a hat. And somehow, astonishingly, he gets away with everything. At first I thought Hesher might be the imaginary personification of some kind of emerging rebellious instinct in T.J., but no. He's a real person who we're supposed to try and take seriously. Aside from Gordon-Levitt's weirdly appealing visual transformation into a young Alan Moore, I couldn't buy it.
There are just too many ridiculous holes in this plot. Why does a guy like Hesher develop a fixation on T.J., to the point where he stalks the kid, and moves into his grandmother's house? A bad explanation is offered, but no real reason beyond Hesher's own arbitrary whims. And then there's the fact that nobody stands up to the guy. Nobody throws him out, calls, the cops, or refuses to be intimidated by his posturing. I get that Hesher is meant to be inhumanly badass, and cannot be denied or reasoned with by mere mortals, but he's still supposed to be a real human being. Even worse, the film decides to awkwardly humanize him in the last act, which undercuts the whole schtick. Suddenly Hesher's offering advice. Suddenly he and grandma have bonded. Suddenly, unleashing the darkest, most negative part of your psyche on the world is considered healthy. It's like watching a angry-young-man masculinity fantasy gone haywire and then being billed as therapy. The pieces just don't fit.
"Everything Must Go" is lighter, sweeter, funnier, and just as contrived. A man named Nick, played by Will Ferrell, is fired for backsliding into alcoholism, and returns home to discover he's been locked out of his house by his wife, and all his possessions are on the front lawn. Nick refuses to leave his stuff, and takes up residence on the turf. He spends the next several days battling his demons and figuring out how to move on, eventually hiring a lonely kid named Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace) to help him organize everything into a giant yard sale. Now the image of Will Ferrell occupying his own front lawn, surrounded by and held captive by the domestic detritus of his own life is a pretty good one. But it doesn't make a movie. The screenwriters don't manage to extrapolate enough story from that idea to justify one.
But they try. So Nick goes through all these manufactured subplots, like teaching Kenny to become a good salesman and baseball player, and having heart-to-hearts with the pregnant woman (Rebecca Hall) who just moved in across the street. There's a nice little visit with a character played by Laura Dern, which could have been the basis of a much better movie. "Everything Must Go" is better than "Hesher" at tying everything together and grounding the more outlandish occurrences with something approaching real-world logic. Will Ferrell is also a very likable screen presence, despite the fact that he's playing a troubled alcoholic, and delivers a decent performance. This doesn't meant that the movie feels any less manipulative or oddly pieced together though.
There's nothing that makes one of these indies feel more stereotypical than a high concept premise and a totally conventional execution. I wonder if "Hesher" would have turned out better if the title character wasn't taken to such ridiculous extremes, or mashed into a narrative where he didn't fit. Or if "Everything Must Go" had put Nick's absent wife onscreen, so she could be dealt with directly, instead of letting Nick wander off on so many tangents. In both cases, it felt like the filmmakers set out to break some boundaries, but then gave up after a certain point and fell back on old conventions. As a result, both movies feel messy and insincere. I'll cut some slack to the first-time directors, but I have to wonder how the hell both films got made with the roster of talent they feature, and with such glaring flaws in there from the outset.