Author: Spencer Susser & David Michôd
Writer’s Potential: 3
Logline:An abrasive, drug-dealing drifter turns the life of a depressed 13-year-old upside down.
Synopsis:TJ FORNEY (13, small for his age, broken arm) rides his bike down a suburban street, chasing a tow truck hauling a wrecked car. TJ follows the truck to a local car dealership, where he argues with the tow truck driver, a mechanic, the dealership owner (LARRY), and a 17-year-old punk, DUSTIN. Larry tells TJ that even if he had the money required to buy back the car — at least $1800 — Larry couldn’t legally sell it to him without a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance. TJ locks himself inside the car and, when Larry sends Dustin after him, TJ rolls the window up on Dustin’s arm, injuring and enraging him. That night, TJ eats dinner with GRANDMA (85) and DAD (45, disheveled, healing from injuries). TJ and Dad argue about Dad allowing the car to get towed, which results in TJ angrily storming off to his room.
The next morning, TJ takes a shortcut through an unfinished housing development. He loses control of his bike and ends up falling in the driveway of a house. HESHER (late 20s, wiry and greasy-haired) emerges from the house, drags TJ inside, and threatens to cut off his nose with gardening shears. He doesn’t quite get to it because he hears police sirens. After throwing a clump of homemade dynamite in the direction of the sirens, Hesher flees in his van. Confused, TJ watches the police cars chases Hesher. At school, TJ is greeted by friends who, from the sound of it, haven’t seen him in awhile. He’s missed a lot of school. His teacher welcomes him back warmly. Despite this, TJ is awkward around them and unwilling to engage in conversation. Later in the day, TJ is assaulted by upperclassman Dustin. When TJ doesn’t back down, Dustin just gets angrier. They get into a fight, landing TJ in the counselor’s office. As she rambles about the readjustment period, TJ spots Hesher in the parking lot, watching him.
TJ goes home, where Dad sleeps and Grandma is sweet. During dinner, the telephone rings. TJ asks if Dad’s going to answer it. Dad says he’s not ready. TJ says he isn’t, either. They eat in silence. Grandma tries to keep things light, but it doesn’t work. A strange doctor removes TJ’s cast. At school, the English teacher drones on while TJ gets distracted by Hesher out in the parking lot. He huffs a magic marker, then throws it inside the classroom at TJ’s head. It hits the floor, getting the attention of the teacher and getting TJ in trouble. After school, Dustin tries to pick another fight with TJ, but NICOLE (mid-20s) appears and pulls Dustin off of TJ. She drives TJ home. They have an awkward conversation. Nicole eventually apologizes for “selfishness,” because she only helped TJ for fear that she’d walk past the fight and then hear on the news that TJ was beaten to death. Nicole pulls into a gas station and buys TJ some sour licorice, which he doesn’t enjoy. She apologizes again, because she selfishly bought it assuming he wouldn’t like it, so she could eat more. TJ’s silently confused by her. Nicole drops TJ at home and helps him with his bike.
Inside, TJ is surprised to find Hesher now living in the Forney house, with Grandma’s permission. Dad comes home from work and is confused by the sight of Hesher, who gets so annoyed by their lack of TV options that he climbs up a telephone pole and rigs it so they can pirate cable. Nicole goes to the supermarket, where Nicole works, to buy her an ice cream cone. She’s taken aback, unsure what to think. TJ arrives home late in the afternoon to find Grandma telling Hesher old stories, which make him laugh uproariously. Grandma invites TJ to go for a walk with her in the morning, but he says he can’t because of school. Hesher demands to know what school has to do with anything. There are rapists and murderers, and Grandma wants to take a walk without getting raped and murdered. She needs TJ’s protection.
At school the next day, TJ sees Hesher again. TJ asks what he’s doing there, but Hesher’s answer is cryptic. Dustin is assaulted by TJ, his head forced into a urinal, while Hesher watches and doesn’t come to his aid. Later that day, Dad picks TJ up and takes him to a group grief-counseling session. Dad admits they lost Mom two months ago and are both having trouble dealing with it. The therapist asks TJ to add to that, but TJ has nothing to say. Afterward, TJ yells at Hesher for not helping him. Hesher takes TJ for a ride in his van. Hesher takes TJ to a gas station, where he fills plastic bags with gasoline. They drive to Dustin’s house, where Hesher uses the bags to blow up Dustin’s Mustang. He leaves TJ stranded at the scene. TJ starts running, and after getting several blocks away, he sees Hesher’s van. Hesher attempts to hit TJ with the van, claiming it’s an accident. Later, back at home, cops arrive and take TJ down to the station, where they accuse him of blowing up Dustin’s car. Dad comes to bail TJ out; as they drive home, Dad asks if TJ did it. TJ says, “Not really,” and when Dad grills him on the ambiguous phrasing, TJ refuses to implicate Hesher, instead taking the full blame. At home, TJ dumps on Hesher, who seems apathetic about cops.
Another day, TJ hides in one of the supermarket aisles as he peers at Nicole, working a checkout counter. Hesher, meanwhile, peers at TJ through another aisle. He accuses TJ of stalking Nicole and decides to teach TJ to do it right. After her shift, they follow Nicole home. She rear-ends somebody during the drive and crumbles, emotionally. Hesher leaps out of the car and insists that the driver was in reverse and hit Nicole. He’s so convincing, even the driver starts to believe it and agrees to pay for the damages. Hesher offers to give Nicole a ride home. When Nicole gripes about her day getting worse and worse no matter what she does, Hesher tells Nicole a disgusting story about sleeping trying to manage an orgy with four drunk women. Nicole assumes he’s using the story of the increasingly worse sexual experience as a metaphor for Nicole’s day, but this perplexes Hesher.
Hesher stops in front of somebody’s house, goes and talks with the owner, then returns to the car. Nicole asks who that was. Hesher doesn’t answer, continues up the street. He knocks on another door. When nobody answers, he tells TJ and Nicole to get out, claiming it’s his uncle’s house. They hang out at the backyard pool until Hesher lights the diving board on fire and runs through it. Immediately after, he insists he has a doctor’s appointment and disappears. TJ and Nicole walk home. Nicole grills TJ about who Hesher is and what’s wrong with him. Nicole gripes about her job, lack of hours, and lack of pay. When TJ gets home, Dad yells at him for not showing up to their counseling group. Hesher watches them argue, fascinated. Not feeling well, Grandma excuses herself. Later, Hesher stops by her room and discovers she’s been prescribed medicinal marijuana. Hesher shows her how to make a bong, then tells Grandma a story about having a pet snake he used to feed mice, until one day he dropped in a mouse that smacked around the snake every time it tried to eat the mouse. Eventually, the snake died of starvation. Grandma thinks the mouse is a metaphor for TJ, but Hesher doesn’t know.
TJ steals Dad’s ATM card. He withdraws $1800 and brings it to the car dealership, where Larry reminds him that, even with the $1800, TJ can’t buy back the car — and even if he could, the car’s gone. TJ asks him where the car went, but Larry throws him out. TJ asks Dustin the same question; Dustin refuses to tell him. As a depressed TJ rides home in the rain, Hesher and Dad find that Grandma has died. TJ comes home and hears the bad news. Frightened and upset, Hesher leaves. TJ calls Nicole but gets her answering machine. He puts the $1800 in an envelope and brings it to Nicole’s apartment. The door is slightly ajar, so when she doesn’t answer, he lets himself in…and finds her in bed with Hesher. Enraged, TJ verbally abuses both Nicole and Hesher, then smashes Hesher’s van’s tail lights and rides away on his bike.
The next day, Hesher arrives to talk to TJ, who hurls a brick through the passenger window of the van. This gets Hesher fuming. They start fighting. Dad tries to break it up, but it ends up a three-man brawl. Eventually TJ gets out of it and runs away — to Dustin’s house. TJ breaks in and, using Hesher’s gardening shears, threatens Dustin’s toes if he doesn’t tell TJ where the car is. Dustin repeats several times that they hauled it to a junkyard, but TJ doesn’t believe him. Eventually, Hesher bursts in to “help” TJ. He grabs the gardening shears and snips off the tip of Dustin’s nose. TJ freaks out, wets a washcloth and insists Dustin apply pressure to it. Terrified, TJ ditches Hesher.
TJ goes to the junkyard, where he finds the car. As he sees it, TJ remembers (shown in flashbacks) the last few moments spent with her mother, who died in a car accident when all three of them were in the car. The wrecking crew are baffled when they find a kid in the car. They manage to talk him out of the car. TJ comes home and is yelled at by Dad. Later, Nicole arrives to apologize to TJ for what happened with Hesher. TJ eventually apologizes for calling her names. At Grandma’s funeral, the FUNERAL DIRECTOR is obsessed with keeping the proceedings short because they’ve overbooked. An old friend of Grandma’s gives a brief eulogy. TJ is asked to do the same, but he can’t come up with anything. Instead, a drunk and disheveled Hesher gives a long, long speech on TJ’s behalf, about losing one testicle because he was careless and thought he was invincible. Hesher and TJ car the coffin — on a wheeled stand — away to “go for a walk” with Grandma. Later, Dad realizes that Hesher has left for good, but he shows TJ something he left something behind: their old car, now cubed, on the front lawn. Dad and TJ make up.
Comments:Despite the occasional funny one-liner, Hesher is a complete mess. It blends a weak, cliché-ridden coming-of-age storyline with thin characters who do bizarre things for no discernible reason. As written, the script merits a pass.
Perhaps its biggest problem is the writers’ apparent desire to catapult the title character into the patheon of classic movie characters. This aspiration is admirable, but the script falls massively short of the goal. We never get know Hesher as anything more than a series of bizarre, unmotivated actions and long, aimless, mostly unfunny monologues that other characters confuse for profoundly metaphoric. He disappears at odd times for ambiguous reasons, making it seem as if he leads a secret life that we never learn anything about. He’s more confusing than interesting.
The other characters are a bit more convincing, despite their lack of depth. With the exception of TJ, nobody rises above a vague stereotype. Dad manifests his depression as anger toward TJ; Grandma is a sweet old lady who’s nice to anyone no matter how bizarre; all we know about Nicole is that she’s a mess, but we never really get to know (or care) why; and Dustin’s a sneering bully. TJ, at least, has some nuance in the way he handles his grief. However, every character suffers from having to interact with Hesher. We’re supposed to leave the story with the impression that Hesher had a major, life-altering impact on the Forneys. The question is: when did this impact occur? TJ fears and hates Hesher from the moment he meets him. They never develop any sort of bond or mutual respect, and all Hesher does is drag him down, worsening TJ’s already-precarious relationship with Dad, Grandma, Dustin, and even Nicole. Everything works out (aside from Grandma dying) because of the beats of the familiar dysfunctional family/coming-of-age story, not because of anything Hesher did to alter TJ’s perceptions about life.
Aside from throwing Hesher into the fray, the writers don’t offer a fresh perspective on the story. The first act shows some promise, but the writers fail to deliver. They pull a number of moments almost directly from better movies like Stand by Me and My Girl, without adding any sort of new spin or perspective. Hesher, for all his odd behavior and misguided stunts, doesn’t impact the storyline in any meaningful way; he’s just a temporary distraction from scenes we’ve already witnessed in better movies.
It would take an extraordinary amount of work to turn this script into a film worth watching. Stars like Natalie Portman and John C. Reilly might imbue the story with a bit of charm, but it has problems that not even an A-list cast can fix without a fundamental retooling of the screenplay. It’s a pass.