2024 Sundance Film Festival: Will Ferrell Documentary and More – The New York Times

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Critic’s Notebook
A documentary about Will Ferrell and his friend Harper Steele brought the house down. It was just one of several discoveries at this year’s festival.

Reporting from Park City, Utah
On Tuesday, after days of tramping around Park City, Utah, griping about the movies and the logistical headaches this mountain resort town presents, I was transported into the Sundance Film Festival that I always hope for, the one in which a movie surprises and moves and maybe delights me, and so successfully makes good on its promise that, after the lights come up, the crowd delivers the festival version of hallelujah with a floor-shaking standing ovation. I admit, I wasn’t expecting that to happen when I walked into the new Will Ferrell joint.
That would be “Will & Harper,” a documentary by Josh Greenbaum in which Ferrell and his longtime friend Harper Steele, a trans woman, set off on a momentous cross-country journey of discovery. Former colleagues at “Saturday Night Live,” where Steele was a head writer, they have collaborated on other Ferrell vehicles, including the Spanish-language comedy “Casa de Mi Padre.” Here, prompted by love and interest — Steele yearns to feel more at ease in public, Ferrell wants to support and understand his friend’s transition — they deepen their friendship while traveling through a predictably divided country.
Like many, if not most, of the movies on this year’s slate, “Will & Harper” will probably make its way into theaters and onto streaming. I hope that’s the case for another movie about trans identity: Jules Rosskam’s “Desire Lines,” a low-budget documentary that doesn’t have star power, just heart and intelligence.
It deserves more attention than, say, “It’s What’s Inside,” Greg Jardin’s gimmicky, ugly-looking and unscary horror movie, which Netflix bought for an eye-popping $17 million. Splashy festival deals like this one generate a lot of noise but there’s always much behind-the-scenes haggling, so I’m hopeful that “Desire Lines” and some of the other lower-radar selections will reach a larger audience.
Movie love is why tens of thousands of attendees continue to gather at Sundance, which ends on Sunday. With 91 features on the slate, the program was somewhat more streamlined this year than in recent editions; in 2023, it presented 110 features. The smaller lineup and reduced number of Park City theaters suggested that the rumors about the festival having some serious money issues were true. It also made me wonder if this time the festival really was going to leave Park City. When I asked Eugene Hernandez, the festival’s director, whether the event was moving, he answered, “Park City is our home, Utah is our home.”
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