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Hesher: Grungy Drama That's Ever-So-Slightly Pretentious
This is undoubtedly a depressing film. Its palette overflows with beige: TJ has a perma-scowl etched on his face, Nicole constantly moans about her life and Hesher swears a lot. Everybody’s just so angsty. Then again; this would have all been ok had the film not been so pretentious. Hesher has long dirty hair; chain smokes and owns a beat up old van where he blasts metal music as loud as he can.
He also enjoys blowing stuff up for no apparent reason and saying the most inappropriate things at the most inappropriate times. Everything about Hesher seems perfectly calculated to have him seem edgy, from the way he dresses to the things he says right down to his tattoos. He has two really crude tattoos, one on his back and the other on his chest. The former is a giant middle finger while the latter is a stick man blowing his brains out of his head. Do you get just how edgy this guy is? Hesher is a caricature of a 12-year-old’s concept of rebellion that honestly just comes across as kind of loco.
The actors do a good job for the most part but any acting attempts are wrecked by the script. Some of Portman’s lines in particular are mind-bogglingly awful. They just don’t sound like anything a human would say; especially one as awkward as the character that she plays. It’s interesting to see Gordon-Levitt play a character so far out of his comfort zone, and it’s to his credit that Hesher comes across as rather mentally unstable as opposed to solely a mash-up of everything that could possibly be construed as edgy.
A main problem here is that you don’t really have anybody that you can root for. Hesher is thoroughly unlikeable and Nicole just comes across as rather self-absorbed. TJ is the most sympathetic character because his situation is just so terrible; but at the same time there’s something rather repulsive about him. You pity him but that doesn’t mean that you can like him or root for him.
In addition, after setting up a certain tone, the film takes a jarring turn towards the end that results in Hesher and TJ’s dad undergoing character changes that seem very forced and artificial. Luckily, the soundtrack is the film’s saving grace; particularly if you happen to be a metal fan. The snippets of Motorhead and Metallica make it a little bit harder to completely dislike an already very disagreeable main character and by extension, the film itself.
This film was doomed to fail from the start. It takes an icon, known for both her sex appeal and her wish to be viewed as something more than that, and tells her story from the point of view of a man who’s in thrall of the screen siren side of her. When the protagonist sees Marilyn in this light, it becomes almost impossible for the viewer to perceive her in any other way, no matter how many Marilyn-the-person as opposed to Marilyn-the-star scenes the film may have. The film falls into the same trap as the general public, even when it takes special care to avoid doing so. And while this doesn’t make the film a complete failure, it does severely impact it and give it a sense of futility.
Colin Clark (Redmayne), a lowly assistant director on the set of The Prince & the Showgirl, grows close to Marilyn Monroe (Williams), the film’s female star. He quickly gains her trust and with it, a front row seat to her handler-approved, pill-popping loneliness and crippling confidence issues. Despite her status as a married woman and a myriad of warnings against doing so, he falls in love with her.
Marilyn occupies a very strange place in the public consciousness;
everybody’s heard of her and seen the picture of her standing over an air vent
with her dress billowing about, yet not many people have seen her films, let
alone know anything about her considerable comedic talent. Still, as an icon,
she’s ubiquitous and it’s mainly because of this that Williams’ portrayal of
her hews closer to mimicry.
Williams is a fantastic actress and there are some scenes in which the resemblance between the two is uncanny, both in looks and mannerisms, yet Monroe is too big a part of pop culture for such a straightforward take on her life. An approach such as the one used in the Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There, may have been more effective. Six different actors, of varying ages, genders and races, were chosen to portray different aspects of the legend. Such a radical approach makes it easier to let go of the image ingrained in your mind and leaves you more open to a different idea of the film’s subject.
There’s also the fact that Colin is the film’s narrator and so, by
default, we’re not getting to know the ‘real’ Marilyn; we’re seeing his
perception of the ‘real’ Marilyn. The film is apparently based on a true story,
which is rather hard to believe when Colin is everything that Marilyn is said
to have hated. In the film, she rails against people who only see her as the
sum total of her sex appeal yet Colin seems star struck, bordering on servile.
He seems completely spineless and Redmayne doesn’t do much with him to make him
The film doesn’t get deep enough into Marilyn’s issues to explain why she would tote him around everywhere when she has a couple of cronies at her beck and call. The main explanation we get is something along the lines of a sweet girl caving under the excess of Hollywood and the pressure of fame which could have been about anyone from Britney Spears to Lindsay Lohan. It’s shallow and doesn’t say anything that Monroe’s most casual fan didn’t already know.
On the plus side, the film is beautiful, as all period films are. It’s soft, warm, richly coloured and showcases some gorgeous costumes and make up. The film-inside-a-film structure allows for greater diversity in the costumes and setting adding to the amount of pretty.
The characters in My Week with Marilyn frequently marvel over Marilyn’s innate talent and natural gift. We marvel along with them but more in blind agreement than as a result of any real conviction.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.