By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 23, 2010 at 2:09AM
Yet another hotly anticipated Sundance title, Hesher, grabbed mixed reaction today from audiences and media. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is on a roll, gives a bravura performance as a violently anarchic homeless drifter who connects with a father and son (Rainn Wilson and Devin Brochu) stricken with grief at the loss of their wife and mother. Natalie Portman tries to tone down her beauty as a supermarket clerk who wants to help. The movie, written and directed by Spencer Susser, digs into some uncomfortable areas.
At the press conference, former child star Gordon-Levitt praised young Brochu, who gives a raw, rough-and-tumble performance. "I'm so proud of you, dude, you killed it!" (Check out Gordon-Levitt's Sundance Roll Call. Later this weekend, I'll post a flip-cam interview with him.)
There was more positive buzz on sales titles The Company Men, written and directed by TV's John Wells, starring Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones (Slashfilm: "Wow, really loved Company Men, but I understand why some might not -- it might be bleaker than The Road") and Australian Animal Kingdom (Coming Attractions: "Whoaaa Animal Kingdom was frickin fantastic! This could win the Audience Award in the World Dramatic category. It's that good.")
Also playing well are three upbeat movies with hard-to-remember-names, Nicole Holofcener's thoughtful, well-observed portrait of neurotic, flawed New Yorkers, starring Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet, Please Give, Happythankyouplease and Catfish. Holofcener shot Please Give, financed by Sony Pictures Classics, in 24 days for just $3 million. "I shoot fast," she told Spike Jonze at SPC's after-party. The director is in town with a 30-minute short financed by Absolut Vodka.
Meanwhile, despite reports of pulling back on production at Overture Films, execs Chris McGurk and Danny Rosett are trawling Sundance for good titles to buy. So are SPC, Apparition, Harvey Weinstein, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, Fox Searchlight, Magnolia and IFC. And also in town checking out movies that will inevitably not land big theatrical sales are so-called "self-service" distribs like Mark Urman's Paladin and Russell Schwartz's Pandemic Marketing, the wave of the future. More on this phenom anon.
Here's a trailer for Jonze's I'm Here: A Love Story in an Absolut World: