Sundance Film Festival

Sundance '12 acquisitions round-up #2: THE SURROGATE, CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, and more

The market at Sundance ’12 was predicted to be “wild,” but started out “cautiously.” Now it looks to be heating up. After just a handful of acquisitions in the first few days of the festival, we’ve gotten a handful of acquisitions in the last few hours. Here’s a few more films that should be coming soon to an arthouse theater near you.

The biggest prize according to many festival observers was THE SURROGATE, the crowd-pleasing story of a disabled man (John Hawkes) who hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to help him lose his virginity (“It’s THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN in an iron lung!” the marketers cheered). This U.S. Dramatic Competition selection’s Monday premiere was so well-received it set off talk of an Oscar nomination next year — and an intense bidding war. Eventually, Fox Searchlight snagged worldwide rights to the film for a price numerous outlets estimated in the $6 million range. A Fox Searchlight press release says the film is scheduled for a release later this year.

Searchlight also picked up one of THE SURROGATE’s biggest competitors in the race for the top prize in the festival’s U.S. Dramatic section, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. This fantastical coming-of-age story about a young girl and her dying father’s relationship garnered equally positive responses from festival audiences and sparked an equally contested battle amongst distributors. It reportedly cost Fox an unreported sum to acquire it, according to Deadline. Another Fox Searchlight press release — they’ve been sending a lot of them today — says this one’s also coming later in 2012.

Sony Pictures Classics paid about a third of that for CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, a romantic comedy about a couple on the verge of divorce starring Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg. Festival reaction to the film was mixed — it’s averaging just a B- in Indiewire‘s annual poll of Sundance critics — but it does have an undeniably marketable cast. The Hollywood Reporter reports that Focus Features also paid in the $2 million neighborhood for its first acquisition title of the festival: FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL… starring Ari Graynor. This feature directorial debut by shorts filmmaker Jamie Travis is a comedy about two roommates who start a phone sex business. It hasn’t been amongst the most buzzed about films of the festival, but that didn’t stop Focus from grabbing the rights after Sunday’s premiere. Makes sense to me: I’ve often wondered what the lives of my favorite phone sex workers were like away from the “office.” Seems like perfect fodder for a movie.

I, uh, I’ve said too much. Moving on…

Even with all these pickups there are still plenty more Sundance ’12 titles available including BACHELORETTE with Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher and LAY THE FAVORITE starring Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Expect a third acquisitions round-up in the near future. That one will probably have fewer phone sex jokes. But I make no promises.