Based-in-fact drama "The Surrogate," from veteran, but unheralded writer-director Ben Lewin, bowed yesterday at Sundance to enormous acclaim, particularly for the central performances, from festival favorite John Hawkes and long-absent Oscar-winner Helen Hunt. The film tells the story of Mark O'Brien (Hawkes), a writer and poet crippled by polio, who sets out at the age of 38 to lose his virginity, with the help of his priest (William H. Macy) and the surrogate of the title (Hunt). O'Brien's tale has already been the subject of the 1997 Oscar-winning doc "Breathing Difficulties," and plenty of people on the Utah slopes have been tipping the film for similar glory (guys, we're a year from the nominations being announced; give it a rest).
And Fox Searchlight have been paying attention. In the biggest deal yet to close at the festival, and after an allegedly fierce bidding war, they've picked up worldwide rights to the film for around the $6 million mark, according to Variety. The company have had awards success with Sundance pick ups like "Little Miss Sunshine," so it's pretty clear what their intentions are with this one. It's their first deal to officially close this year, although they're also close on a pick-up to Benh Zeitlin's wildly acclaimed "Beasts Of The Southern Wild." Now most of the big films have debuted, expect the speed of acquisitions to pick up as buyers are circling hot titles like "Arbitrage," "Celeste and Jesse Forever," "Smashed" and "Safety Not Guaranteed," and news should break on those films, and many others, in the next few days.