In his just-up “Rundown” column, MSN’s James Rocchi has singled out five South by Southwest films that he considers the “best of the fest — so far.” I haven’t seen two of them — Ben Wheatley‘s Kill List and Joe Cornish‘s Attack The Block. And I half-agree with Rocchi’s choice of Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop — an agreeable, smoothly assembled profile-of-a-celebrity-comedian piece. But my eyeballs popped out of my head on coiled springs — boiinnnggg! — when I saw that Spencer Susser‘s Hesher and Evan Glodell‘s Bellflower were ranked third and fourth.
Joseph Gordon Levitt in Spencer Susser’s Hesher.
I saw Bellflower almost two months ago at Sundance, and my general reaction was split between pique, boredom and watch-checking agony. There’s nothing going on in this film of any interest or intrigue whatsoever…nothing. It’s a portrait of backwater hell and grungeballs and lackadaisical scrotum-scratching. No story tension, a handmade flamethrower, no pizazz, no humor (or at least not the kind I was able to laugh or even smirk at), crappy-looking photography (which Rocchi calls “darkly gorgeous”), no job or vision or income, godawful wardrobes, no rooting interest, no emotional involvement.
It farts out a stunningly lame story about two low-rent 30something guys nursing some asinine notion of a coming apocalypse and one of them, a slacker beardo played by Glodell, getting lucky with a nice girl and beginning some kind of serious relationship and then the ex-boyfriend wheedles his way back in, etc.
Rocchi calls Bellflower “one of the most strong and stylish critiques of the idiocy and confusion in young manhood since Fight Club” — not a chance.
Hesher does have a startling, amusing-at-times Joseph Gordon Levitt performance as a hair-trigger hippie Rasputin slash animal-house provocateur. And a very fierce and touching one from the tweener-aged Devin Brochu. And there’s some nicely twisted humor going on in the story of Levitt moving uninvited into Brochu’s San Fernando Valley home and gradually rousing him and his depressed dad (Rainn Wilson) out of a stupor-like depression over the death of Brochu’s mom. But Levitt’s numerous provocations seem to be more about fart-lighting improv and acting on whatever extreme-scuzzball instinct has popped into his (or Susser’s) head. It all kinda sorta of pays off at the end, but you have to endure a motherlode of WTF? consternation before this finally happens.
I also enjoyed/respected the performances by Natalie Portman, a financially struggling checkout girl whom Brochu befriends, and Piper Laurie, playing Brochu’s ailing grandmother and,as it turns out, the one character who seems to “get” Hesher/Levitt most of all. And Wilson’s catatonic dad (who delivers his second agonized-crying scene of the festival, after the one in Super) feels like truth every moment he’s on-screen.
Hesher is not shit — it has its own vision and personality and delivers a form of anarchic-idiot behavior that I’ve never quite seen or contemplated before — but to call it one of the five best of SXSW 2011? Better than Super and Source Code? Or Robbie Pickering‘s Natural Selection and/or Tristan Patterson‘s Dragonslayer, which won the top SXSW awards last night? Highly disputable.