He looks and acts like a cross between Jesus and Charlie Manson. That's Hesher, his chest tattooed with gun violence, his mouth a spewing sewer, his eyes fixated on porn. As played by the spectacular Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hesher is the id run rampant.
So what is this metal-freak stranger doing in the home of a family in danger of imploding? The kid (a terrific Devin Brochu) is bullied at school. The dad (Rainn Wilson) is barely alive. Grandma (a splendid Piper Laurie) is tired of holding it together. And Mom? Well, she died in a car crash.
That's the situation into which debuting director Spencer Susser throws this twisted force of nature. Hesher takes over everyone, except Nicole (Natalie Portman), the checkout girl of the kid's dreams.
As the film's co-producer, Portman shows a bracing kinship with the indie spirit. So what if Hesher flies off its wobbly handles — it keeps springing funny and touching surprises. The performances are aces. Wilson makes Dad's emergence a subtle marvel. And even when the script edges Gordon-Levitt into Hallmark sentiment, you can't take your eyes off him.