An anarchistic head-banger who moves, uninvited, into a grief-stricken family's home and royally shakes things up, is Hesher, and that's about all you need to know.

Tonally all-over-the-place, with a long-haired, muscled-up, seriously tattooed Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role, writer-director Spencer Susser's meditation on loss, and living, and the latent humanity of a profane heavy-metal diehard is mostly notable for the appearance of screen veteran Piper Laurie - bravely assessing the role of a borderline senile senior.

Gloom hangs in the air of the ill-lit, litter-strewn Forney home. As Hesher begins, the schoolkid T.J. (Devin Brochu) is on his bike, furiously chasing after a tow-truck that's taking the family car away. Turns out, it's the car that T.J.'s mother died in. His father, who was behind the wheel at the time of the crash, is played by The Office's Rainn Wilson, acting shell-shocked and depressed in a manner far more conspicuous than it should be.

Enter Hesher, who's a squatter at a construction site and blames T.J. for being discovered and displaced. So he stalks the boy, glares menacingly at him in school, and then follows him through the working-class corridors of this Southern California community back to the Forney household. Dad just lies there, zombielike, on the couch, and Grandma (Laurie) putters about as if nothing is wrong, trying to get someone to accompany her for a walk.

Smoking, boozing, burning stuff down and looking nothing like the sweet greeting-card designer and architecture buff he was in (500) Days of Summer, Gordon-Levitt is so committed to his portrayal of this ungracious fellow that the effort shows. Natalie Portman, whose production company guided the earnestly edgy indie to fruition, takes a stab at supermarket cashier (shades of Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl), wearing dorky glasses and a sad face and getting both the kid and Hesher to fall for her.

Hesher has its genuinely affecting scenes, but too much of the time it feels false and shallow.