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Sundance 2024: Will & Harper, Look into My Eyes, War Game | Festivals & Awards


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The form in “Will & Harper” is basically a road buddy comedy. Directed by Josh Greenbaum (“Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar”), this is the deeply personal story of Will Ferrell and his good friend Harper Steele. They met when Steele was a writer on “Saturday Night Live,” helping Ferrell hone the comedic persona that would make him a household name. They’ve been friends for three decades, but Ferrell was still startled to receive an email a couple years ago that Steele was transitioning to become Harper, something she had wanted to do for decades, but a secret she kept from everyone in her life.

To process this change and see how it would impact the road trips across this country’s heartland that Steele had loved to take her entire life, Will and Harper decide to spend 16 days on the road. They go to a Pacers game, a stock car race, a dive bar, and hang out in parking lots, eating Pringles and drinking Natty Light. A few famous faces pop up, including visits to Molly Shannon and Will Forte, but it’s mostly just Will and Harper through the windshield of her Jeep. They ask delicate questions about each other, and Ferrell smartly cedes most of the discussion to his friend, really trying to help Harper process how she sees herself and her comfort in how the world sees her now.

Greenbaum smartly foregrounds the idea that Harper won’t exactly be treated like an average trans person simply by virtue of being with Ricky Bobby. They even go as far as to try and put Ferrell in disguise, or, in one of the film’s best scenes, send Harper into an Oklahoma bar first. The mood definitely changes when the celebrity joins her. When it feels like “Will & Harper” is reaching for what it means to be trans in dive bars in the South, it feels inadequate.

Luckily, this isn’t as often as it might have been in a lesser film that set out to “solve transphobia.” This one is really about friendship, and it is remarkably moving on that level. Harper Steele is extremely brave, sharing her journal entries and speaking about pits of despair that she was in regarding her gender identity. She is open in ways that we can sometimes only be with our friends, and it’s powerful simply to see how invested Ferrell is in what Harper is thinking and feeling. It’s in those unmanufactured conversational beats that this film finds its strength, in how we can find strength in each other. There’s a pure, true companionship here that should serve as a reminder to call that person in your life who might need someone to talk to. Sometimes even the people we think we know best may just need a friend to listen to them, laugh with them, and eat Pringles with them.

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by Xtreme HD IPTV

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