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2018 Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Review Revue: THE SURROGATE

The 2012 Sundance Film Festival has had no shortage of well-received movies. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, DETROPIA, THE RAID and more have drawn very strong, very positive reactions from both audiences and critics. But they all pale before the response to THE SURROGATE, whose reception in Park City has been nothing less than orgasmic. Which is kind of appropriate given the film’s subject: a disabled middle-aged man (John Hawkes) tries to have sex for the first time with the help of a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt). A sex surrogate, by the way, is a therapist who “engages in intimate physical relations or sex with a patient in order to achieve a therapeutic goal.” In a related story, I just enrolled in night school, where I’m going to major in sex surrogacy. I can’t wait for study group.

THE SURROGATE’s story is a true one based on the life of Mark O’Brien, a journalist and poet who suffers from polio and must spend most of his time inside an iron lung. But, as Screen Daily‘s Anthony Kaufman explains, the real life O’Brien “is not exactly paralyzed. Though he is fated to lay prone on a gurney, with his head bent in one direction, and can only be away from his massive iron lung machine for a few hours at a time, he can feel normal bodily sensations. And he can have an erection. So physically, he should be able to have sex. Though dating, as you might expect, hasn’t come easy for Mark.”

“It sounds like the kind of relentlessly miserable tale that Sundance occasionally chooses to inflict upon us. But THE SURROGATE couldn’t be further from grim” says The Guardian‘s Jeremy Kay, who praises the film’s “grace, humour and tenderness.” Kay also strikes a chord that’s resounding throughout THE SURROGATES’ reviews: this movie is a sure-fire Oscar contender next year. “We may be about celebrate the acting achievements of Jean Dujardin, George Clooney, Leo DiCaprio et al,” he says “but this time year Hawkes could be the name on everybody’s lips.” Germain Lussier from /Film agrees, writing that “while the 2012 Sundance Film Festival has yet to bestow its awards, let alone premiere all the films, I feel confident in saying Ben Lewin‘s THE SURROGATE will likely be in the mix for awards here and possibly next year at the Oscars.” Eric Vespe from Ain’t It Cool thinks it’s a “sure-fire awards contender” too; no wonder Fox Searchlight snapped up the rights to the film for a reported $6 million, the highest price paid for any film at this year’s festival.

Several critics also note that after his darker roles in recent Sundance hits like WINTER’S BONE and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, Hawkes is showcasing his range by playing a very different kind of man here. Drew McWeeny from HitFix calls Hawkes “remarkable” as he “spends the entire film twisted into a painful, terrifying question mark of a man, desperate to connect to someone.” Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter says “Hawkes’ full-bodied vocal and emotional characterization stands in stark contrast to his frail corporal presence.” And The Film Stage‘s Jordan Raup writes that “Hawkes is tremendous at conveying his passions with glances and the slightest of facial gestures.”

So, yeah, they liked it. Like really liked it. Like get ready to hear about this movie for the next twelve months liked it. Like John Hawkes should get used to Oscar talk liked it. Like Searchlight’s going to have to be careful to manage expectations or people are going to go in expecting the greatest movie they’ve ever seen liked it. Like it was really hard to find any tweets that weren’t super-positive liked it.

“THE SURROGATE was stunning. I commend everyone involved with brining this story to the screen. Wow.#Sundance” — Jenni Miller,

“Whoah, John Hawkes is extraordinarily moving, funny, charming in THE SURROGATE. Hype confirmed. #Sundance” — Logan Hill, GQ

“Standing ovation after THE SURROGATE premiere at #Sundance. If it were running in this year’s Oscar race, THE ARTIST would be toast.” — Peter Debruce, Variety

“THE SURROGATE: a spoonful of humor makes the sex-therapy-as-real-therapy drama go down well. A tad episodic, but solid all around. #Sundance” — William Goss, The Playlist

“So John Hawkes (definitely) and Helen Hunt (probably) will get Oscar nominations next year for The Surrogate. I’ll deal with it. #Sundance” — Geoff Berkshire,

To find more Sundance screenings of THE SURROGATE, go to