Will Ferrell embarks on a cross-country road trip with a decades-long friend in his new film, but viewers anticipating a buddy comedy might be surprised ― and moved ― by the end result.
“Will & Harper,” which premiered Monday at the Sundance Film Festival, has been billed as “an intimate portrait of friendship, transition, and America.” The documentary follows Ferrell as he reconnects with longtime pal Harper Steele, who reintroduced herself as a trans woman in 2022, while traveling from New York to Los Angeles.
Speaking with Variety, Ferrell acknowledged that he had “zero knowledge” of the trans community when Steele first began living as her true self. The pair met as professional collaborators on “Saturday Night Live,” which Steele wrote for from 1995 to 2008.
“I had met trans people, but I didn’t have anyone personally in my life,” the “Barbie” actor said. “So this was all new territory for me, which is why I think this film is so exciting for us to kind of put out there in the world. It’s a chance [for] all of us in the cis community to be able to ask questions and also just to listen and be there as a friend to discuss this journey.”
Ferrell, left, and Steele at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. "Will & Harper" had its world premiere at the annual film festival.
Filmmaker Josh Greenbaum followed Ferrell and Steele for 17 days and compiled more than 250 hours of footage for “Will & Harper” before editing the documentary down to a suitable running time.
The film also boasts an ending credits song written by fellow “SNL” veteran Kristen Wiig, who, incidentally, worked with Greenbaum on the 2021 comedy “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.”
“For me, it was a chance to transition myself, in a way — to learn, to get to know my friend even more than I knew her before, to get to ask these questions that I think a lot of cis people still have, for me to struggle on camera with asking these questions,” Ferrell said in a video interview with Deadline. “And then there are a couple emotional moments where I’m struggling with making sure I stand up for my friend in moments that felt tense for us and feeling like I fail at times.”
Echoing those sentiments was Steele, who said participating in “Will & Harper” boosted her confidence in living authentically.
“It was only my second year of transition, and I thought this would help me dissipate some of the nervousness around it,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “Walking around with a big shot like Will was gonna be helpful to me.”
A wider release date for “Will & Harper” has not yet been announced. The film, however, has already made a favorable impression with critics at Sundance, with The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon writing: “It’s incredibly entertaining, and emotional in a way that only a documentary made with such authentic, all-in intention could be.”