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Sundance 2010: Hype, then caution, as available titles debut

January 22, 2010 |  8:59 pm


Expectations at Sundance were high coming into Friday's screening of the dysfunctional-family dramedy "Hesher," just as they were for the two previous high-profile acquisition targets at the festival, the James Franco literary adaptation "Howl" and the feature debut from Josh Radnor (yes, the "How I Met Your Mother" Josh Radnor), "happythankyoumoreplease." Pretty much every indie film executive in the western hemisphere packed into the Eccles Theater on Friday afternoon to catch a glimpse of "Hesher."

And just as they were for the previous two films, sales prospects cooled off after buyers got a chance to see the film.

Spencer Susser's debut concerns an oft-bullied boy who recently lost his mother and sees his world turned upside down when a juvenile delinquent comes into his life (the titular Hesher, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Supporting parts come from Natalie Portman as a lost soul of her own and a depressive Rainn Wilson (in an against-type role, if nothing else).

Gordon-Levitt, a breakout at the festival last year with "(500) Days of Summer," earned high marks from many for his freewheeling performance. But the movie's dour and at times choppy tone didn't blow away a few of the buyers we talked to, and hopes for a bidding frenzy by the biggest studios seemed limited.

After the mixed reception toward the other big available titles -- and unexpected interest in a digital-communication documentary called "Catfish" (more on that one shortly) -- that meant that, for all of Sundance's desire to reinvent itself, at least one historical pattern remained: The sales realities didn't meet the sales expectations.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a scene from "Hesher." Credit: Associated Press

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