PARK CITY, Utah — Four decades ago, Robert Redford landed himself a permanent place in movie history as he and co-star Paul Newman famously wondered: “Who are those guys?” in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Now, as the Sundance Kid continues to oversee the festival named for his character, Redford may still have the same question on his lips.
Names such as Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, Dito Montiel, Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore dominated the Sundance Film Festival over the weekend, along with 9-year-old Abigail Breslin and Laurie Collyer — a gray-haired debut director with far more years but a much briefer résumé. You may not know who these people are, but judging by the buzz on Main Street, you will very soon (see “Good Charlotte’s ’Future’ And Jennifer Aniston’s ’Friends’ Get Sundance Started” ).
“It’s pretty uncomfortable, because you’re all sweaty and hot,” a smiling Breslin said of the “Little Miss Sunshine” padding that aided her De Niro-esque transformation into a chubby and unappealing beauty pageant contestant. “The first day I saw it, I was like, ’Woah, maybe I’m eating too much.”
The young actress should have plenty of meal money now, as her film was purchased for $11 million. Breslin had some help from an impressive roster of co-stars, including Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette and the red-hot Steve Carell, who plays against type in the dark comedy. “I play a suicidal Proust scholar,” laughed the star of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” “Which I’m so sick of doing. This is, I think, the fourth time I’ve played a suicidal Proust scholar, but this one’s different because I have a beard.”
“It’s about a family that goes on a road trip to a beauty pageant, and their little girl, who’s not really beauty-pageant material,” Breslin explained, grinning from ear to ear. As well she should. The intense buzz around the film, directed by music video veterans Dayton and Faris, resulted in a chaotic premiere Friday that will be long remembered for disappointed mobs and overwhelmed publicists with megaphones.
As Carell, Kinnear and Breslin strolled from one interview to the next along Park City’s main drag, they passed Shia LaBeouf, Robert Downey Jr. and the other stars of “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” a powerful crime drama that plays like a cross between “A Bronx Tale” and “The Basketball Diaries.” Studios have started bidding on the film, with viewers hailing it as LaBeouf’s breakout.
“I don’t know what to say to that, man. That’s crazy,” the 19-year-old said, admitting that he does consider it to be the greatest performance of his young career. “You never think about that; if you do think about that, the performance turns out like garbage. … I just went to places I never went to before.”
“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” is the semi-autobiographical tale of the real-life struggles of writer/director Dito Montiel — played by LaBeouf as a youngster and Downey as an adult. “It’s got a really raw style, and some of those movies like ’Kids’ or … a movie that Dito and I love is ’City of God,’ ” Downey said. “It isn’t that raw, but it’s [about] a very violent and non-communicative environment, and yet there’s a lot of love.”
Also gathering considerable buzz is Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose performance in the drama “Sherrybaby” had audiences weeping like Dr. Phil’s studio audience. “I play a girl, Sherry. When the movie starts I’ve just gotten my release from prison for a drug possession charge and armed robbery charge. And I have a 5-year-old daughter who I haven’t seen since she was 2,” Gyllenhaal said of the film, directed by Collyer. “I felt very exposed [at the screening]. … It was intense. It’s hard for me to watch it.”
Depending on the acquisitions and distribution of their films, Gyllenhaal may end up butting heads with Ashley Judd next awards season. Judd, gathering the same kind of buzz for the sexual drama “Come Early Morning” that Sundance brought her in 1993 for “Ruby in Paradise,” says that it wasn’t easy, but she’s pleased with the result. “There was always a certain amount of anticipation or dread,” Judd remembered of the film’s emotional shoot. “I got nervous about things, but once I did them, they all went fine.”
Although it might never win any awards of its own, one of the most bizarre festival entries so far is “Special,” a no-budget superhero flick that has geek tongues wagging. “From day one, it was like “Let’s do this whole superhero-origin thing, but let’s do it in the style of ’Jackass,” said Hal Haberman, who co-wrote and directed alongside Jeremy Passmore.
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The quirky comic-book drama tells the story of a meter maid (Michael Rapaport), whose participation in a drug experiment has him developing super powers — or so he thinks. “Everybody dreams of being a superhero. I dreamed of being Superman; he was my guy,” the actor admitted. “The jumping and the running around and stuff — that was a lot of fun to do. … And the mind-reading was fun, too. Everybody would love to read minds, especially of pretty girls.”
Rapaport’s would-be hero could have a field day perusing the thoughts of networking starlets here in Park City, who seem to outnumber the snowflakes. From no-name wannabes to world-famous cover girls who don’t even have a movie to pimp out, this is undoubtedly the place to see and be seen.
Paris Hilton caused near riots throughout the weekend as she hosted a hot-ticket party, loaded up with free gifts at various stores and even autographed a washer/dryer for charity — writing “That’s hot!” above her name (and perhaps not realizing how much more appropriate it would have been if she had written it on the dryer side of the combo). Running from place to place with a considerable entourage, the party girl jammed Main Street nearly as badly as Jennifer Aniston did days before when word spread among gawkers that the “Friends With Money” star was inside an art gallery.
In an endless parade of recognizable faces, everyone from Sally Field and Anne Heche to Paul Giamatti and James Van Der Beek have been spotted all over town. One of the weekend’s most discussed moments, however, took place when Lance Bass visited an upscale sex shop called the Booty Parlor and became so enamored with a sex toy — named the Lancelot — that he backed into a lit candle, briefly setting his coat ablaze.
Moments like these are as inseparable from the festival atmosphere as the movies themselves: Tommy Lee received a free personal men’s trimmer and mimed grooming his nether regions; Aniston eyeballed $60,000, diamond-encrusted sunglasses; Scott Caan was offered a free BlackBerry.
The glow of Shia LaBeouf’s buzz wore off quickly, one can assume, when he encountered the Beastie Boys in a well-traveled lobby. Unable to contain himself, the actor exclaimed loudly that the rappers were “the sh–,” leading the trio to look him up and down and, perhaps assuming he was just another star-struck fan, walk away. Apparently, it’s not only the Sundance Kid who’s wondering who these guys are.
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